Tag Archives: Aroostook Band of Micmacs

First Micmac Fish Harvest

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a unique relationship with federally-recognized Native American Tribes, as do all Federal agencies. This relationship is defined by treaties, statutes and agreements, and differs from relationships with state and local governments.  In fact, Tribes are sovereign nations and the government works with them in nation-to-nation manner. The Northeast Region is committed to working with Tribes to conserve and manage wildlife resources. There are 19 Federally recognized Tribes in the Northeast, from Maine to Virginia. Each year, the Service administers Tribal Wildlife Grants program, providing financial and technical assistance for projects that benefit fish and wildlife resources and their habitat that are a priority for Tribes.  One recent recipient of a grant is the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, headquartered in Presque Isle, Maine.

The Aroostook Band is part of the Micmac Nation, comprised of 29 bands with ancestral ties to the St. Lawrence, Maritime Provinces and other regions along the Atlantic Seaboard in Canada and the United States.  The Tribe gained federal recognition in November of 1991, and now has approximately 1,240 members. The Aroostook Band is known for creating beautiful black ash baskets, quillwork birch bark boxes, and floral wooden sculptures. Last month, the Aroostook Band unveiled their newest creation, a recirculating aquaculture brook trout fish hatchery that was made possible by their Tribal Wildlife grant. The new fish hatchery has allowed the Tribe to grow brook trout, a traditional food source, and the first harvest went off in April without a hitch.

Like other fish species that are native to Maine’s waterways, the brook trout has long been an important part of the Aroostook Band’s cultural traditions and subsistence. The first brook trout fish harvest marked an important milestone for the Tribe, and fed the Tribal Council and guests at a Tribal Council meeting. It was incredibly thrilling for the community and especially for one Tribal Councilor, who remarked “25 years ago we were sitting in a small office on Main Street and this was just a pipe dream, now we are doing it!” One hundred pounds of fish were harvested, and the surplus was distributed to Tribal elders. Everyone agreed the fish tasted delicious! In addition, because these trout were grown in a closed system, they are free of contaminants.

Additionally, the Aroostook Band is developing a brook trout educational program for Tribal youth and other local youth. The purpose of the educational program will be to raise public awareness with regard to the importance of brook trout and the current ecological and human stressors that are affecting wild brook trout populations.

The next steps for the Aroostook Band will be harvesting and selling fish to the public. The money made on fish will help sustain the cost of the hatchery. Not only does the fish hatchery benefit the Tribe, it supports local fish populations by reducing fishing pressure on the native trout. (At this time, fish grown at the hatchery are not introduced into native watercourses or bodies of water.) The Aroostook Band is excited for the opportunity to protect wild brook trout populations while producing a healthy source of fresh fish for the community. The Tribe plans to hold an open house for the fish hatchery in the near future.

Wabanaki Days in Maine

Boulders are placed in the Meduxnekeag River to create more natural aquatic habit for fish. Photo credit: USFWS

Boulders are placed in the Meduxnekeag River to create a more natural aquatic habit for fish. Photo credit: USFWS

Jen with fish
Today we hear from Jennifer Lapis, a public affairs specialist in the Northeast Region. This summer she visited three Native American tribes in Maine, getting a firsthand look at the restoration and wildlife conservation work being completed in partnership with the Service and other organizations. 

Laughs and smiles of excitement flooded the air as we pulled up to the project site on the serene Meduxnekeag River. On this sunny summer day in northern Maine, I had the pleasure of joining the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and several partnering agencies at a traditional blessing ceremony, honoring the start of an in-stream habitat restoration project that will benefit eastern brook trout and other aquatic species found in the river.

Others attending the Maliseet ceremony were part of a dedicated team of professionals who worked for more than a year to develop, coordinate and finally witness the anticipated habitat enhancement project come to fruition.

Representatives from the Maliseet Tribe and partnering organizations pose for a group photo. Partnering agencies involved are: Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Houlton Band of Maliseets, Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Town of Littleton.

Representatives from the Maliseet Tribe and partnering organizations pose for a group photo. Partnering agencies involved are: Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Houlton Band of Maliseets, Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Town of Littleton, Maine.

The Maliseets, members of the Wabanaki Nation, are river people who have traditionally been hunters and gatherers in the St. John River basin, of which the Meduxnekeag River is a tributary. The Meduxnekeag, which in the Wabanaki language means, “where it is rocky at its mouth,” runs through Maliseet Tribal lands and is prized for its brook and brown trout populations.

Standing on the bridge looking out, I watched in awe as large trucks and heavy equipment operators brought large boulders and entire tree trunks into the river, strategically placing them to create more natural habitats for fish. This particular restoration project is significant not only for restoring the area to its historical natural ecology, but also for the spiritual and cultural meaning the river and all its resources have provided for life and survival of the Maliseet people.

D.J. Monette, the Service's regional Native American Liaison, participates in the smudging performed by a Tribal elder. Photo Credit: USFWS

D.J. Monette, the Service’s regional Native American Liaison, participates in the smudging performed by a Tribal elder. Photo Credit: USFWS

The trip to Houlton was part of a whirlwind tour of several natural resource project sites in northeast Maine, all conducted by tribes, in partnership with federal, state and non-profit organizations. These projects are made possible, in part, with funding through the Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grants Program, National Fish Habitat Action Plan and Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture.

Other tribes we visited on this engaging trip were the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Penobscot Indian Nation, who also belong to the larger Wabanaki Nation. As with the Maliseets, these tribes are heavily involved with natural resource projects throughout their lands and in the community. Our tour of project sites brought us to a newly constructed farm store and fish hatchery, a natural rock weir (made for fish passage), and road culverts that will help restore streams to their natural flow for better fish passage, wildlife habitat and are designed to withstand 100 year catastrophic rain events.

A natural rock weir created on Penobscot Indian Nation land to help fish pass up and down stream. Photo credit: USFWS

“This natural rock weir helps direct fish and  allows them to move freely and naturally up and down stream, giving them access to important spawning habitat.” Photo credit: USFWS

As a public affairs specialist for the Service, my day to day job duties tend to keep me in the office a majority of the time. Having an opportunity to get outdoors and see first hand the conservation work I so often read and write about, was a refreshing and heart- warming experience. Along those same lines, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting two respected Tribal Leaders, Houlton Band of Maliseet Chief Brenda Commander and Aroostook Band of Micmac Chief Charlie Peter Paul. It was an enlightening, educational, and certainly, a most memorable trip.

Learn more about our work with Native American Tribes

Learn more about the National Fish Habitat Partnership

Learn more about Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture