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New Measure Establishes Water Quality Standards For Sustenance Fishing In Maine's Tribal Waters

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo
In this Sunday, March 4, 2018 photo water flows through Haskell Pitch, a series of drops on the east Branch of the Penobscot River in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Northern, Maine.

Tribal leaders, lawmakers and environmental groups are praising passage of a bill, signed into lawby Gov. Janet Mills Friday, that establishes water quality standards for sustenance fishing in tribal waters.

This marks the first time the state has created water quality criteria aimed specifically at protecting a practice that is central to the tribes' culture and identity. It also ends a long simmeringlegal disputebetween the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the tribes.

"This sustenance fishing bill is huge, and my natural resources staff and I and my legal team have been working with the other tribes and with the Maine DEP and with the EPA to come up with this bill and I think it was a compromise on all sides," says Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseets, says it is a good compromise.

"It's going to protect our waters for a higher fish consumption rate,” Sabattis says. “It doesn't meet the levels that the EPA had asserted on our behalf, but it's still at a greater rate than anywhere else in the nation."

The new law calculates criteria for water contaminants based on a daily consumption rate of about seven ounces of fish per day. Environmentalists say the clean water protections it offers will benefit all Mainers who use the rivers and streams covered by the new law.