Down East 2013 ©
Invasive nonnative fish and plants have changed my life. Some have changed things for the better, others not so much.
Young Gabe Jacobs (in the accompanying photo) will enjoy catching whopper northern pike in the Belgrade Lakes - but never experience the spectacular landlocked salmon fishing there that I once enjoyed. Some idiot dumped northern pike into the Belgrades. These voracious predators have changed that lake system forever. My salmon are gone.
On the other hand, or water, I love fishing for nonnative Smallmouth Bass, a feisty jumper that has been spread statewide by anglers (illegally) and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (legally).
Very few seem concerned that this nonnative species has turned into our state’s number one fishery. Twice as many bass are caught each year in Maine than native brook trout, an astonishing fact. On the other hand, I enjoy photographing and eating the most invasive plant in Maine, dandelions.
We are conflicted about nonnative invasive species. Some we love. Some we love to hate. Those we love are often not even recognized as nonnative to our state. Those we hate are always referred to as invasive and usually as illegally introduced.
At this year’s 13th Annual Maine Milfoil Summit, organized by the Lakes Environmental Association, Bobby VanRiper delivered very discouraging news. VanRiper is a dynamic Regional Fisheries Biologist for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
It was good to hear, at a milfoil summit, at least one presentation on invasive fish, which have had a much more devastating impact than invasive plants in Maine waters – changing entire ecosystems and wiping out native species, especially our wild and native brook trout.
VanRiper reported that he’d just discovered Northern Pike in Maranacook Lake, my hometown water where I caught many fish growing up and which features a great trout fishery today. Pike are one of the most voracious predators that have been spread throughout the state’s waters. This is truly bad news.
Bobby also reported that Smelts were recently discovered in Wadleigh Pond – one of our few remaining waters with a native population of Blueback Trout. He also told the story of DIF&W’s current very-expensive effort to kill all aquatic organisms in Big Reed Pond, in order to reintroduce Bluebacks to that water – where illegally-introduced Smelts nearly wiped out the Bluebacks over the last decade.
He was clearly disappointed to find that some other idiot has introduced smelts into Wadleigh Pond. “We can’t sustain the spread of invasive fish,” he said, predicting the probability of recovering any native species once invasives have been introduced to water are “slim to none.”
The legislature has taken a real interest in the problem of invasive plants, levying fees on boat registrations to pay for an aggressive education, monitoring, and eradication program. It has ignored the much greater problem of invasive fish that have changed entire ecosystems. Muskies have wiped out native brook trout in the St. John River drainage. Pike have eaten everything in the Belgrades. Crappie have been introduced illegally in over 300 lakes and ponds.
Perhaps it’s time for the first annual Invasive Fish Summit.