By George Smith
Mainers have done a great job finding and ridding our waters of invasive plants. But weʼve done absolutely nothing to remove illegally introduced invasive fish that are now found in every Maine county.
Invasive fish have devastated Maineʼs native fisheries. My favorite place to catch landlocked salmon was Long Pond in Belgrade. Today there are nine types of invasive fish in Long Pond, and the abundant salmon population is long gone. In fact, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife is now stocking the pond with rainbow trout, a nonnative fish that they hope will be able to compete with the invasive fish there.
On May 3 I attended the Maine Lake Protection and Research Collaborative Policy Roundtable at 7 Lakes Alliance in Belgrade Lakes. Sponsored and hosted by Lakes Environmental Association, its purpose is to create an action plan to protect Maine waters.
After an hour I suggested that we might want to talk about invasive fish, so we did talk about that for a while. Iʼm doubtful the issue will be raised at the other roundtables, but weʼll see. I do not want to be critical of the great work done by lots of people to keep our drinking water safe and our lakes, ponds, rivers and streams free of invasive plants. Thereʼs even a capital campaign to stop milfoil
going on at the moment. You can learn more about that from the Belgrade Lakes Association, which is focused on fighting milfoil in Great Pond and keeping it from spreading into Long Pond.
Last summer 17,151 gallons of invasive milfoil were removed from Great Meadow Stream and North Bay of Great Pond. Thatʼs almost five times more than was removed in 2016, which demonstrates what a battle this is.
Unfortunately it probably is too late to deal with many of the invasive fish that have taken over so many of our bodies of water. But there are aggressive actions we can take to reduce their populations, including gathering them up when they spawn.
Years ago I submitted, on behalf of the Sportsmenʼs Alliance of Maine, legislation that established Heritage Waters where our native brook trout are now protected. Maine has all the native brook trout in lakes and ponds in this country, and it is an important responsibility to protect them. Last year I submitted legislation, sponsored at my request by Rep. Russell Black, to protect the tributaries of our Heritage Waters, but unfortunately IF&W opposed the bill. However the Legislatureʼs IF&W Committee embraced the idea, and the department has now promised to get this done by October and report back to that committee. Iʼm skeptical that they will actually do it, but weʼll see. Unfortunately even IF&W has failed to protect some of our native fisheries by stocking hatchery fish in waters that allowed them to get into our native fish waters, including the Rapid River, which was one our stateʼs best native brook trout rivers. Sadly the Rapid is now full of bass, which came from the New
Hampshire end of the river, and hatchery brook trout, which were stocked by IF&W in the lake above the river.
I am very encouraged by the Lakes Environmental Associationʼs new project, which was funded with a grant from the Sewall Foundation. Peter Lowell is doing a superb job of leading this collaborative statewide project. We even talked about protecting bogs, which are important for both fisheries and a variety of wildlife.
One of the issues we discussed was the need to make sure folks who have places along our waterways know all the requirements that theyʼre supposed to follow to protect those waterways. Participants were well aware that enforcement of our laws and rules — particularly at the town level — is a big problem that
must be addressed.
We talked about the need to engage tourism businesses in our issues and initiatives. I spoke about the great challenges faced by Maine sporting camps — weʼve gone from over 300 of the traditional sporting camps to just three dozen. When I asked the camp operators about their greatest challenges, it was the
loss of hunters and anglers. We have failed our outdoor industry on all levels, including marketing of our fishing opportunities.
We also talked about a whole variety of issues from the use of salt on winter roads to the management of dams. It was a great meeting, and Iʼm looking forward to follow up.
Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Mount Vernonʼs Community Center, Iʼll be talking about invasive fish issues at an event hosted by the 30 Mile Watershed Association. If you are concerned about invasive fish — or just
want to know more about them and what we can do to remove them from our waters — please join us. George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352
Read more of Smithʼs writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.