Invasive Fish and Poor Water Quality Challenge Central Maine Fisheries Biologists

“Central Maine is the invasive species headquarters for the state.” That’s the sobering conclusion of Department of Inland Fisheries &Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Jason Seiders, one of the three biologists in Region B which includes 4000 square miles, 370 lakes and ponds, and 3500 miles of flowing water in central Maine. Yes, these folks are busy! But not too busy for Jason to present a very interesting talk at the Maine Lakes Conservation Center in Belgrade Lakes on July 14. Local game warden Ethan Buuck, who lives down the road from me in Mount Vernon and covers five towns in our area, also spoke. Ethan’s short talk focused on boating law enforcement during the summer months. It was good to hear him say, “Most people behave very well.” And he said he’s often told, “We’re glad to see you guys out.” I was surprised to learn that the Warden Service employs boating assistants in the summer with federal funding from the Coast Guard. Ethan also told us that “spring fishing was a little slow. We didn’t see the usual number of violations. And it was also a slow winter” on the ice. The day he spoke to us, he’d worked on a search warrant and given a talk to kids about wildlife.

Jason Seiders has been working at DIF&W for ten years, and has developed an excellent reputation in my area. He gave a very informative and interesting talk, and answered many questions, including a bunch from me. He told us we no longer have brook trout that spawn and hold over to the next year in the Belgrade Lakes area, because of invasive species, and he noted that, “Invasive species are becoming more popular with anglers here than stocked fish.” I’d talked that day at the Liberal Cup in Hallowell with an out-­of-state angler who was staying at Castle Island Camps on Long Pond in Belgrade. He came here specifically to catch smallmouth bass and northern pike, dominant fish in Long Pond, where I once caught wonderful Landlocked salmon. DIF&W has given up on trout and salmon in the pond, and has begun stocking rainbow trout there, because rainbows will eat the landlocked alewives that have now eliminated smelts from the pond. Jason also said that crappie, in addition to pike, are now very popular in Long Pond. That reminded me of my recent column titled, “Fishing is Crappie.” Jason thinks that rainbows will bring out-­of-­staters to Maine to fish, but I told him I’m skeptical of that. There are a lot of great places to fish for rainbows, and I have done that, primarily in Montana and Alaska. But rainbows will certainly be popular with local anglers. He also explained a fish kill this spring on McGrath Pond and Salmon Lake, which turned out to be all white perch. “Water temperature changes killed the spawning fish,” he said. Technically, their ability to manage sodium was diminished, causing infections to set in, along with parasites and fungal infections. He did reassure us that “there are still plenty of white perch there.” And he knew that because he fishes those waters often. Then he turned to Great Pond, where just a few years ago they were catching brown trout up to 8 pounds.

Last fall, while trap netting Great Pond, they sadly caught no brown trout. They did catch a huge 42 inch 7 pound eel. Their recent summer survey, using gill nets which kill the fish, found 4 small brown trout in Great Pond. He said he’ll be doing a winter creel survey to learn more about what’s happened to the brown trout here. A rather humorous comment from the audience at this point noted that brown trout are also an invasive nonnative fish. They’re not even native to our continent! So yes, we pick and choose our invasive species. Some we love, some we love to hate. I happen to like walleyes, and there were a few for a while in Long Pond, but they are long gone, and Jason said that’s a good thing, because if they’d done well there, he’s afraid anglers would have spread them to other waters. That’s sad but true, I think. Maine did, at one time, stock walleye in a lot of waters. Jason brought us up­ to ­date on the closure of the Gray fish hatchery, due to a sudden drop in water flowing to the hatchery. I wrote about that when it happened, and will be publishing an update on the situation soon. Stating that the proliferation of invasive fish “is really a shame,” Jason surprised me when he said juvenile pike have moved up into the small streams and brooks in the Belgrade watershed, eliminating the brook trout that used to thrive there. He said the pike stay in the streams and brooks all summer, “and consume everything.” At the end of his enlightening talk, Jason summed things up, noting that “water quality is the biggest problem and challenge in this region,” – even bigger than invasive fish. Something to think about – and work on.

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