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Illegal Stocking, the Threat Grows
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Finally, spring has arrived in Maine. The ice has disappeared from the lakes and ponds of coastal, southern, and central Maine and winter's armor is gradually weakening on the waters of Northern and Western Maine.

It's time! Time to dust of the tackle box, clean and oil that reel, inspect your waders for leaks. Time to tie one last fly, prepare the outboard and canoe for their summer's work.

It's time to think, too. Time to recall past springs and memorable trips of long ago. Time to plan this season's fishing with friends and family. But, unfortunately, there is a long-standing and rapidly growing menace on the horizon that disquiets our gentle reveries of fishing adventures gone by and threatens our dreams of trips to come.

What we have
Maine's native, self-sustaining populations of landlocked salmon, lake trout and brook trout are an abundant natural resource, uncommon to the rest of the United States. For instance, wild brook trout populations provide fisheries in nearly 500 lakes and ponds and in thousands of miles of rivers and streams. Self-sustaining populations of landlocked salmon and lake trout, although less numerous than wild brook trout populations, are found in many waters, as well. These populations support unique fisheries that provide highly desirable sport fishing opportunities that are an important element in Maine's economy. Based on the most recent USFWS survey, anglers expended $251,000,000 in Maine in 2001! You're reading it right, folks, that's TWO HUNDRED FIFTY-ONE MILLION DOLLARS in one year!

What we've lost
Nevertheless, these wonderful resources, particularly our native brook trout populations, were once even more abundant and widespread. It is important to remember that Maine has over 5,000 lakes and ponds that exceed 10-acres in size. Very likely most of these waters once supported populations of brook trout! Think of it! Just a few hundred years ago, at the time of the European colonization of America, wild brook trout were abundant in places like Cobboseecontee Lake and the Belgrade Chain of Lakes as well as many other waters.

What's the problem
Actually, the problems confronting are native fish species is many faceted. First and foremost species such as brook trout are inherently sensitive to habitat changes such as declining water quality, siltation and so on. All of these problems are directly caused or greatly exacerbated by industrial and domestic pollution, agriculture practices, cutting practices, and watershed development, among others. We've made significant progress dealing with some of these issues but one problem seems to resist our best efforts at slowing the loss of these resources, let alone achieving significant recovery. This seemingly intractable problem is the ongoing and accelerating spread of invasive fish species through illegal stockings! You want some prove? Consider this, chain pickerel a Maine native once restricted to a few waters in extreme southern Maine is now found in all of our 16 counties! Furthermore, black bass have been illegally stocked in over 150 waters since 1986! Black crappies, like black bass a nonnative, are now considered common in southern and central Maine. Northern pike have been reported in seven more waters in 2003 alone, including Sebago Lake! To varying degrees, all of these fish species pose significant problems for native fishes.

Let's take a look at some examples of illegal fish introductions around the state and the consequences to existing fisheries. I'm sure you'll recognize a favorite water or two, but remember; the list is far from complete!

SOUTHERN MAINE
Lily Pond in New Gloucester: this small Pond formerly supported a good brook trout fishery with some trout reaching 2-3 lbs. Illegal introductions of largemouth bass about 1967 and crappie in the mid 1990's have severely compromised the size and quality of the brook trout fishery.

Keyes Pond in Sweden: this water formerly supported a very good brook trout fishery. An illegal transfer of largemouth bass around 1990 has produced a greatly diminished trout fishery.

Long Pond in Denmark, Shagg Pond in Woodstock, and Cushman Pond in Sumner:
Regional biologist John Boland reports his ability to manage these waters for brook trout has been substantially compromised by illegal fish introductions. The culprits are smelt, banded killifish, bullhead, and golden shiners in Long Pond; yellow perch, pumpkinseed sunfish, golden shiner, and banded killifish in Shagg; bullhead and golden shiners in Cushman Pond.

Little Sabattus Pond in Greene, Taylor Pond in Auburn, and Winnegance Pond in Phippsburg: these waters support northern pike as a result of unauthorized transfers. While none previously supported any notable fisheries, biologist Francis Brautigam reports their presence is a matter of considerable concern as they may spread into additional waters.

EASTERN MAINE
Round Pond in T10SD: this small water in the Tunk Stream drainage formerly supported a modest fishery for 2 -3 lb brook trout. Smallmouth bass were illegally introduced in the early 1990's, and have quickly established a thriving population. Despite restrictive regulations on brook trout and a no size or bag limit rule on bass, the trout population now is merely a "relic" one. What is especially troubling is that the Tunk Stream drainage was the most pristine in Downeast Maine with no bass, perch, or pickerel in any lakes...just salmon, trout, togue, suckers, and various minnows. Tunk Lake is the third deepest Lake in Maine, and a lake of statewide significance having superb water quality and populations of togue (lake trout) and salmon. The lake lies at the head of the drainage.

Donnell Pond in Franklin: this water supports a salmon fishery, and in the better years, anglers catch 2-3 lb fish. Wild salmon, produced in the outlet, usually comprise from 30-45% of the catch. An illegal recent introduction of smallmouth bass will adversely impact recruitment of wild salmon into the fishery. Those bass that reside in the outlet will eat the young of the year salmon and compete for food with the larger 5-6 inch salmon parr.

Indian Lake in Whiting: back in the mid 1970's, following chemical reclamation, this water supported an excellent brook trout fishery. Anglers caught lots of plump 9-11 inch fish, along with good numbers of 13-15 inch fish. Suckers, yellow perch, and numerous minnows eventually swam around the barrier dam and up into the Pond, greatly diminishing the quality of the trout fishery. But the real "death knell" for the trout was an illegal introduction of smallmouth bass in the mid 1990's. Now, anglers catch lots of small 8-10 inch bass that exert severe competitive pressure on the trout.

Third Pond in Blue Hill: largemouths were illegally stocked here about 1988. Although no sport fisheries were jeopardized, the bass have moved downstream into Second Pond. If they move further downstream into First (Billings) pond, they will imperil one of the premier wild brook trout fisheries in the region. Yet another example of where the short-sighted actions of some unthinking person who wanted "to have something to catch" in Third Pond" years later threatens an outstanding wild brook trout fishery which provides consistent action for dozens of anglers each winter.

Penobscot Valley and Eastern Maine (Region F)
East Grand Lake: this legendary salmon water has attracted non-residents for decades. Up until the mid-1990's, this water produced some of the very best salmon fishing (winter and summer) in the state. However, an illegal introduction of landlocked alewives has caused a precipitous decline in the formerly abundant smelt population. The single most important reason for East Grand's premier fishery was its ability to sustain smelts at high abundance year in and year out. That very special ability has been severely compromised by the alewives probably through competition smelt for zooplankton.

East Branch of the Penobscot River: this river supports a good brook trout fishery. Regional Fisheries Biologist Mike Smith reports that an unauthorized smallmouth bass introduction has resulted in bass moving up the East Br. above Grand Pitch, jeopardizing the trout fishery below Matagamon Lake.

Lower and Upper Shin Ponds; these waters formerly supported good trout fisheries. A recent illegal introduction of smallmouths will eventually ruin these fisheries.

Western Maine (Region D)
The Rapid River, Umbagog Lake and Upper Androscoggin River drainage, Oxford County: smallmouth bass were illegally introduced about 1985 into Umbagog Lake. Since then, they have spread into the Rapid River, which supports a world-class wild brook trout fishery with fish up to 5 pound. The Department and a variety of angler groups are struggling to minimize the damage caused by this introduction. Hopefully, they will have at least some success.

Upper Kennebec River, Somerset County: smallmouths from an earlier illegal introduction have moved into the main stem and some tributaries. They have migrated into the Dead River and certain tributaries. These waters support good wild brook trout, salmon, and rainbow trout fisheries now, but the outlook is poor as bass increase in abundance and range.

East Carry Pond in Carrying Place Town: this water is famous for its wild brook trout fishery. A recent illegal introduction of smelt threatens reproductive success of the shoreline spawning trout as smelt will eat trout fry, i.e. newly hatched trout.

Northern Maine (Region G)
Durepo Lake in Limestone, Aroostook County: this small impoundment on Limestone Stream supports a good fishery for wild brook trout. In 2001 David Basley, our Regional Fisheries Biologist in Aroostook County, received an extremely valuable and timely report from an angler who reported catching a strange fish while trout fishing at Durepo. Fishery biologists sampling confirmed the presence of largemouths in Durepo Lake July-August of 2001. After determining that reclamation (a technique involving the application of rotenone which kills all fish in a Pond) was feasible, Regional Biologist Dave Basley recommended an emergency reclamation. The Fishery Division Director and the DIFW Commissioner supported Dave's recommendation. The reclamation project apparently achieved a complete kill of the largemouths. Anglers in eastern Aroostook County certainly owe a huge pat on the back to the angler who thoughtfully reported his strange catch and to Dave Basley and his staff for a job well done! They have succeeded in eliminating a potentially devastating population of largemouths, thereby preserving, at least for now, the significant wild trout fisheries of the Limestone stream drainage.

Still not convinced we have a problem? Have a look at the table of some of the illegal introductions that took place in 2003:

Some Illegal Fish Introductions Into Maine Waters, 2003
Name of Water Township County Fish Species Reported Presence Confirmed?
Estes Lake Sanford York Northern Pike YES
Sebago Lake Casco, etc. Cumberland Northern Pike YES
Wat Tuh Pond Phippsburg Sagadahoc Northern Pike YES
Pushaw Lake Glenburn Penobscot Northern Pike NO
Lovejoy Pond Albion Kennebec Northern Pike YES
Parker Pond Mt. Vernon Kennebec Northern Pike NO
Torsey Pond Mt. Vernon Kennebec Northern Pike YES
Thompson Lake Poland, etc. Oxford White perch YES
Saddle Pond T7R9 WELS Piscataquis Smallmouth Bass NO
Silver Lake Lee Penobscot Smallmouth Bass NO
Basin Pond Fayette Kennebec Largemouth Bass YES
Savade Pond Windsor Kennebec Largemouth Bass NO
China Lake China Kennebec Searun Alewives YES
East Pond Smithfield Somerset Walleye Pike NO
Great Moose Lake Hartland Somerset Green Sunfish YES
Great Moose Lake Hartland Somerset Blue Gill Sunfish YES

What we are doing
The sad truth is that once illegal populations become established, there is little that you or this department can do to eliminate the illegally introduced population. Our best defense against illegal stocking is prevention. Over the past two years, IFW has worked with the legislature to increase the fines to $10,000 for those who are caught illegally stocking fish. It is also now a crime to illegally stock fish. Operation Game Thief has increased the reward money to $2,000 for information leading to a conviction. The Department has increased educational efforts to alert people of the irreversible damage that is done by these illegal stockings. Posters at access sites, education brochures, and advertisements in sporting publications and lawbooks are all ways that we are informing the public about the harm caused by illegal stocking. And by policy, this department does not manage species that have been recently illegally introduced into a waterway.

What you can do
It is, of course, illegal to stock fish in any Maine water, public or private, without a permit from the Commissioner of IFW. Nevertheless, the state's waters continue to be subjected to an onslaught of illegal stockings. We can dwell on pointing fingers and finding fault. There is much to go around. But in the end there is only one solution to the problem. Its time for all Maine anglers, whatever species they seek, to "step to the plate". Speak out on the dangers of illegal stockings at every opportunity. And don't hesitate to report (1-800-ALERT-US) any thing you hear about an illegal stocking. Your information might help preserve a native fish population and avert an ecological disaster!
-Dennis McNeish, Fisheries Management Supervisor, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

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