top of page
john-dancy-jm8kYJbGVHw-unsplash.jpg

Climate Impacts on Water and the Wabanaki

Traditional river and ocean fisheries, as well as cultural lifeways, are being negatively impacted by changes in the region's hydrology, including increased pollutants, agricultural run-off, changes in temperature, wildlife migration patterns, sea-level, and high levels of mercury in both river and ocean species. 

CLIMATE SCIENCE PORTAL  CLIMATE SCIENCE 101

13. Salmon_SU.png

Source: Steve Underwood. Existing stresses upon coldwater fish species such as salmon and trout will be compounded as water temperatures rise in response to climate change. These stresses include: loss of critical habitat from historical logging operations; physical barriers from hydropower dams; early winter runoffs; decreased oxygen levels; rising pH; and toxic runoff from agriculture after extreme precipitation events. - Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar sebago).

Hydrological issues are a primary concern for the Maliseet of Aroostook County in Houlton, Maine. Observations from water quality experts at Maliseet that indicate a sharp rise in nighttime low temperatures have serious implications on the status of cold-water fisheries. Prevailing stress factors for salmon and trout survival with increased water temperatures are compounded by loss of critical habitat from historical logging operations, physical barriers from hydropower dams, early winter runoffs, decreased oxygen levels, rising pH, and toxic runoff from agriculture after extreme precipitation events. Compounding the risk of extinction of these culturally important species is the lack of state regulatory enforcement and monitoring of agricultural practices for water quality. Excess nutrients combined with warmer water appears to have made algae growth more prevalent in the Meduxnekeag River, tributaries and streams, and sedimentation due to agricultural runoff has built up in the deep pools, damaging prime habitat for the fisheries.

Confounding factors for the issues identified above include increasing water  temperatures, extreme precipitation, toxic runoffs, abrupt freeze thaw conditions, longer drought cycles, industrial pollution, fish advisories, invasive species, and overall lack of access to culturally important species. Cultural vulnerability is made worse by the lack of state regulatory enforcement, unequal application of state law and inconsistency in international/state/local policy on meaningful involvement of the tribe in environmental issues, particularly surrounding water quality.

boulders_meduxnekeag.jpg

Source: USFWS. The creation of of this natural rock weir is part of a broader effort to restore fish habitat in the Meduxnekeag River, led by the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in collaboration with several partnering agencies.

Irrigation for agriculture creates low flow conditions in local streams and rivers with little monitoring from state officials. Mercury, DDT, and glyphosate have historically polluted the water systems leading to fish consumption advisories for the Maliseet in the area. The tribe finds it difficult to plan and implement adaptive and mitigation measures under these current circumstances, making it virtually impossible to maintain resilient and viable ecosystems within the tribe’s traditional economy and provide safe food for tribal members living a mixed subsistence lifestyle within tribal territories.  The tribe was working to restore the ecosystems long before climate change became a prominent issue and continue to struggle to restore healthy and robust ecosystems under the terms of ‘business as  usual’ practices of industry.     

15. SweetgrassHarvestCoastalArea_DS.jpg

Source: Donald Soctomah. The Wabanaki have been working to restore the ecosystems long before climate change became a prominent issue and continue to struggle to restore healthy and robust ecosystems under the terms of ‘business as usual’ practices of industry. - Harvesting sweetgrass along the Maine Coast

Traditional fishermen depend on the river fisheries as an essential nutrient source for their families and they view restoring the habitat as paramount for tribal food security, while simultaneously sustaining inherent cultural practices.  Many tribal members are unable to participate in these important cultural activities and wild food acquisition on which many depend for purposes of mixed subsistence lifestyles, often accompanied by poverty conditions.  The tribe realizes the need to find common benefit and innovative ways in collaboration with local officials, private landowners and international hydropower companies to address public education to restore the river system to its near natural state.

sweet grass
16. SipayikWaterTower_AC_SkyCorrectedjpg.jpg

Source: Andrew Clark, Maine Beacon (edited). The Passamaquoddy community at Sipay’k (Pleasant Point) will need to meet climate-driven challenges by rebuilding infrastructure and/or moving the community back away from the coastline due to erosion issues, salt-water intrusion and drinking water contamination.

Sea level rise and salt water intrusion into the Passamaquoddy community  infrastructure and private homes is a major concern. Historic sacred sites are at risk of being lost along coastal regions. Due to sea level rise, the water treatment facility at Sipay’k (Pleasant Point) is at risk from inundation by salt-water intrusion leading to contamination of shellfish in surrounding areas.  Coastal erosion and storm surges pose significant public health concerns and potential structural damage to the facilities. The tribe will need to meet these climate-driven demands to rebuild the infrastructure and/or move the community back away from the coastline due to erosion issues, salt-water intrusion and drinking water contamination.   

SEA LEVEL RISE VIEWER  Sea level rise and salt water intrusion into the Passamaquoddy community at Sipay’k (Pleasant Point) are major concerns. This map shows portions of Pleasant Point that are vulnerable to innundation (in green) at 5-feet of sea level rise. Scientists predict the likelihood of 5 feet of flooding in this coastal region due to sea level rise by 2050 at 92% – 100%, and projected local rises in this area of 1.8 to 6.3 feet by 2100. The more heat-trapping pollution emitted, the higher that sea-level rise is likely to be. [Data source: 2017 NOAA technical report, U.S. National Climate Assessment]. Activate the viewer to see additional flooding scenarios.

16. PleasantPoint5FeetSLR_NOAA.png
Sea-Level Rise

There has been an overall concern about the resiliency of the ocean environment and the Passamaquoddy ocean culture in the region.  Species abundance, productivity and  biodiversity has dwindled sharply over the past 40 years.  Observations indicate a disruption in species return and migratory patterns in the marine environment.  Various fish species returning to the area have been unpredictable (earlier or later). The impacts are significant and include a disruption in the food webs, species survival and the commercial economy in which fish runs may be missed because of unpredictable seasonal conditions.  Tribal harvesters are no longer able to utilize the marine sea life for mixed subsistence practices due to a lack of access through regulation, loss of habitat and lack of species abundance, and geographic restrictions of the reservation. 

As Marvin Cling, Director of the Passamaquoddy Environmental Department points out, “There’s a lot of things that tribal members use out there that aren’t valuable to mainstream society or the big global commercial economy and how these resource are impacted, and it’s tied to culture, it’s tied to how tribal members connect to the land.”  Access to cultural resources have become constrained because of rural development and lack of habitat.  There have been inconsistencies in the application of shore zoning ordinances for  international, state and local agencies that have led to the destruction of natural buffering  systems for storm runoff into the waterways and wetlands. 

Natural resources such as shad and porpoise have considerable cultural significance  such as indicating proper time for harvesting, river ecology, ceremony and on-going food  security. Mercury contamination has been a concern of the fisheries and public health for  all tribes.

17. HarborPorpoiseGOM_NOAA.png

Source: NOAA. Porpoise was once a primary food source for tribal members at Peskotomuhkatik (Passamaquoddy) in Sipay’k and an important animal used in sacred ceremonies for all the Wabanaki tribes. - Harbor Porpoise in the Gulf of Maine.

Porpoise was once a primary food source for tribal members at Peskotomuhkatik (Passamaquoddy) in Sipay’k and an important animal used in sacred ceremonies for all the Wabanaki tribes. Traditionally, the southern tribe would send out runners to retrieve the porpoise meat for annual ceremonies and gathering. The animal would be taken in a sacred manner for these purposes.   

Today, as a result of human-induced climate changes, there are public health warnings for safe consumption levels of fish in both river and ocean species important to the tribes in Maine. Historic sacred sites are at risk of being lost along much of the coastal regions. 

 

Traditional tribal fishermen feel more restoration work and mitigation strategies for  climate change are necessary to enhance the productivity of the fisheries for tribal members. Restoration of infrastructure and sustenance harvesting are paramount through avenues of  TEK, SEK, and tribal self-determination.  Creating a more favorable political climate and policy changes will be necessary for the tribes and will provide additional challenges.   

Traditional Ocean Fisheries

DISCOVER MORE | Suggested topics

QUICK LINKS

The Maine Climate Science Portal was envisioned and developed by Maine Climate Action Now. Content development, to date, has been a largely-volunteer effort. Click here to see a full list of contributors.

Do you have feedback on this resource? Share your feedback in this form.

Portal designed by Lights Out Art Consulting LLC

bottom of page