MONSON, Maine — Just as poachers play havoc on the state’s wildlife, “bucket biologists” are altering the fisheries in Maine’s waters, according to experts.
“The introduction of invasive species is rampant in the state,” Department of Inland Fisheries biologist Tim Obrey of the Greenville regional office confirmed Friday. These invasive species are being introduced by people who take the fish from one pond in buckets and move them to another body of water.
“The illegal introduction of any fish into any Maine water is a Class E crime, punishable by fines of up to $10,000 because it is such an insidious act,” Obrey said in an e-mail Friday. Anyone with information about such an introduction should call Operation Game Thief at 800-253-7887.
While southern and central Maine waters have had their share of invasive species, the Moosehead Lake area has not been immune, according to Obrey. In the past two years, biologists have confirmed the presence of smallmouth bass in the Upper Moose River drainage, including Big Wood Pond and Brassua Lake, and largemouth bass have been confirmed at Center Pond in Sangerville and most recently in Hebron Lake in Monson.
An angler’s report prompted biologists to electrofish Hebron Lake last month to determine if the largemouth bass had established itself in the lake. In electrofishing, an electric device is used to stun fish before they are caught. “We were surprised at how many we saw [in Hebron],” Obrey said. A total of 49 largemouth bass varying in age were taken from three areas of the pond, he said.
Obrey worries about the effect largemouth bass will have on the salmon production for Sebec Lake and its affect on the lake’s smallmouth bass. He said the illegal stocking not only will affect Hebron but the largemouth bass will move down the outlet, into Monson Pond and into Wilson Stream, where about 95 percent of the wild salmon production for Sebec occurs.
Largemouth bass compete with cold-water game fish for food and space. A largemouth bass is reported to produce thousands of eggs compared with cold-water fish such as salmon, brook trout and lake trout that produce a few hundred eggs, according to biologists.
“The spread of ‘invasives’ can have a domino effect,” Obrey noted. New sources of invasive populations can increase the odds of another nearby water being illegally stocked with the invasive fish, he said. As an example, Obrey said pike were confirmed in the 1970s in North Pond and they now have a presence in more than 30 bodies of water in the Belgrade Lakes region.
“The recent introduction of northern pike in Pushaw Lake now threatens many waters in the Penobscot and Piscataquis drainages in a similar fashion,” Obrey said.
Obrey said introductions of invasive species threaten the state’s native fish, in particular brook trout. Maine is one of the last bastions in the eastern United States for wild brook trout.
The public can help protect native fish through prevention, the biologist said. “People need to understand that there are very serious ecological consequences to introducing invasive species and they are almost always permanent,” Obrey said. While biologists can try to reclaim small bodies of water by killing the fish, an expensive proposition, there is little that can be done with large bodies of water.