TOWNSHIP 8 RANGE 10, Maine — Sixteen Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists, with support from several organizations, recently did a weeklong reclamation project of Big Reed Pond in remote northern Piscataquis County.
The pond, which is surrounded by land owned by The Nature Conservancy, is one of only 12 Maine bodies of water that support the last remaining native wild Arctic char in the lower 48 states, according to Deborah Turcotte, DIF&W spokeswoman.
Concerned that the native brook trout and Arctic char in the pond were being displaced by illegally introduced fish such as rainbow smelts and creek chub, the biologists applied rotenone to the rather shallow lake to kill the invasive species. Rotenone is an organic substance extracted from South American plant roots and is li-censed for use to control invasive fish, Turcotte said.
“This project came about because over a period of years people who had historically fished that pond realized that something was happening to the native trout and char population,” Nancy Sferra, The Nature Conservancy’s director of science and stewardship, said Friday.
Sferra said state biologists did pond surveys several years ago and determined that rainbow smelts were having a negative effect on the trout and char populations. Biologists believe an ice fisherman likely dumped the rest of his bait fish into the pond rather than carry them back out, which started the smelt population, she said.
“That’s really the unfortunate part of this,” Sferra said.
To prepare for the reclamation project, biologists began moving the brook trout and Arctic char from the pond in 2007 to the private Mountain Springs Trout Farm in Frenchville.
Because Arctic char had declined to such low numbers, capturing the fish was extremely difficult and time-consuming, Turcotte said. Fewer than 15 char were caught over a three-year period. About 1,100 fingerling Arctic char are being cared for at the Frenchville hatchery for later restocking of Big Reed Pond, Turcotte said.
The numbers of brook trout captured from the pond were much higher. Several age classes of trout are being cared for in both Frenchville and at Presque Isle High School, she said. The brook trout collected from the pond will be spawned this month for restocking in 2011 and 2012.
“The success of this reclamation effort is shared by partners that see the value in restoring two fish species to a remote body of water that fishing memories are made on,” DIF&W Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin said in a prepared press release. “I’m deeply grateful to all participants for their cooperation and dedication.”
In addition to The Nature Conservancy and the trout farm, support was given by the University of Maine; Maine Army National Guard; the Bradford Camps on Munsungan Lake, which volunteered flight service and lodging as well as funds; the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund; and a group of volunteers.
Because of its remote location — access is by floatplane or a hike over a primitive path — the reclamation project was the department’s largest and most difficult to date, Turcotte said.
The Maine Army National Guard sent two Black Hawk helicopters on Sept. 29 to assist the department in ferrying supplies to the pond, which saved the department labor costs, Turcotte said. The cost of the project to date was not available on Friday, but Turcotte said the job was done by the biologists during their workweek.
The restoration of the pond is far from done, Sferra said. She said biologists would have to go in next spring and make sure the invasive fish have been eliminated before they can start restoring the native fish population.
“DIF&W was very, very deliberate in researching all of the potential options with the situation before settling on the rotenone,” Sferra said. “I think the work that they did was really good, and they did it in a very collaborative way.” She said her organization was informed by the department as the project evolved.
Sferra also noted that the department had volunteers stationed on the pond ready to scoop up any char or trout that floated to the top. When the fish die they float to the surface and if the fish are quickly placed in pure water, they can be revived. While no char floated to the top, the volunteers did manage to save a few of the trout, she said. The illegal species of fish were left in the water to decompose.