The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine convened a meeting on August 16 to begin a wide-open discussion to address the widespread problems of the illegal introduction of fish in Maine waters. SAM’s Executive Director Dave Trahan kicked off the afternoon’s meeting by expressing his opinion that illegally introduced fish have had a devastating impact on the state’s native fisheries.
An impressive group of thirty people participated including representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon, Maine Professional Guides Association, Bass clubs, Trout Unlimited, the Departments of Environmental Protection and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee, and DIF&W’s fishery advisory groups. One legislator, Rep. Ellie Espling, also attended.
DIF&W’s Merrie Gallagher made a good presentation of the issues and challenges, from poor record keeping to the difficulty of distinguishing some species from others, and of the various tools available to the department to address the problem.
Gallagher reported that since May 2006, 97 illegal introductions were detected of 20 fish species, with six being the highest concern: small and largemouth bass, walleye, muskie, pike, and black crappie.
After Gallagher’s presentation, Trahan solicited ideas for addressing the problem and he got an earful. He also handed out a form giving participants an opportunity to present their suggestions in writing.
Don Kleiner, a Maine guide and executive director of the Maine Professional Guides Association, reported that he had just caught, that morning, the first crappie he’s seen in Seven Tree Pond in Union. He wondered why we hadn’t done as good a job on invasive fish as we have done on invasive plants.
Trahan emphasized how important it is for all groups and anglers to “get on the same page,” and educate people about the problems caused by illegal fish stocking.
Participants mentioned a number of problems in the way the state reacts to illegal fish introductions, including inconsistent management of bait fish and the lack of a program and staff dedicated to the problems of invasive fish, similar to the DEP’s program, staff, and funding dedicated to the problems of invasive plants.
Steve Brook asked a great question concerning the lack of a DIF&W policy for how to deal with newly discovered illegal fish introductions. Merrie Gallagher said it was time to update an old plan drafted 10 years ago by DIF&W and the DEP. Trahan said SAM would sponsor a bill demanding that the DEP and DIF&W create a policy and update the plan if the agencies do not act on their own.
While I sat there at the meeting, I drafted a policy. I’ve posted it in my Bangor Daily News blog, and invite you to read it and give me your reaction and suggestions.
Greg Ponte pointed out a problem in the terminology and the definition of an invasive species. There is confusion about how a fish in one place can be ok and in another it’s labeled as invasive.
I raised the issues I wrote about last week in my Bangor Daily News blog post, and asked specifically if DIF&W has a policy governing Black crappie. Mike Brown, DIF&W’s Fisheries Division Director, said the department doesn’t want crappie spread to more waters. He asked, “how do we deal with angler values for some of these fish, how to we achieve a balance?”
I didn’t respond because I didn’t want to make Mike’s life difficult, but if DIF&W’s policy is that illegally introduced crappie are ok in some places but not ok in other places, they’ll never get on top of this critical problem.
The problem, obviously, is that we can’t agree on the species we like and the species we don’t like, and where we like them and where we don’t like them.
Trahan suggested the only effective way of stopping illegal introductions is peer pressure. And for those who suggested stronger enforcement of the laws prohibiting illegal introductions, Trahan asked for ideas for how to fund that. Good luck with that Dave!
Gary Corson suggested closing lakes to fishing if invasive fish were illegally introduced there. That would certainly ratchet up the peer pressure! Corson also suggested the Warden Service should devote much more attention and time to the problem, including undercover work.
Warden Service Lt. Chris Cloutier reported that since 2008, 40 summonses were issued for keeping fish alive. Half of those summonses were issued in 2012.
It was suggested that commercial fishing for inland species could be offered for species like perch, by a guy who now catches and sells yellow perch.
Deirdre Fleming, outdoor news reporter for the Portland Press Herald, said her Sunday Telegram story this coming weekend will be about invasive species, and noted that only seven people were charged in the last 10 years with illegal fish stocking. Four were convicted. No one paid more than a $1000 fine (even though the law allows fines up to $10,000).
Steve Brooks pointed out that nonprofit groups, led by Trout Unlimited and Maine Audubon, had taken the lead to survey native trout waters – when DIF&W should be in the lead and focused on this. Nothing else is as important, he said.
My conclusion after an afternoon of passionate debate is this: Probably all we could hope to achieve is to draw a line around every water that still has native fish species and no nonnative fish, and have a plan to deal immediately and effectively with illegal introductions of fish in those waters – and give up on all the other waters.
SAM’s Invasive Fish Survey
Send your ideas for a DIF&W policy to deal with illegal introductions of invasive fish to Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, 205 Church Hill Road, Augusta, ME 04330. Include your name, address, telephone, and email. Offer suggestions focusing on these areas: Education, Regulations, Legislation, Enforcement, Management, Other. Do it today!