September 20, 2018
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Stocking Arctic charr in heritage pond is a bad idea, fish conservationists say

John Holyoke | BDN
John Holyoke | BDN
This remote trout pond in Somerset County is one of more than 500 in Maine that either have never been stocked with fish, or haven't been stocked in 25 years. The Native Fish Coalition is posting signs at ponds like this to let anglers know that no live fish can be used as bait. That regulation helps existing fish by eliminating unnatural competition.
By John Holyoke, BDN Staff
Updated:

BANGOR, Maine — Fisheries conservationists made passionate pleas Tuesday night for state officials to reconsider a plan that would allow the introduction of Arctic charr into a brook trout water that has never been stocked, and which is included on Maine’s list of protected Heritage Fish Waters.

The proposed delisting of Henderson Pond, which is in northern Piscataquis County, due west of Millinocket, drew the ire of those in attendance. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is considering a plan that would transfer struggling charr from Bald Mountain Pond, or perhaps from another source, to Henderson Pond, where a viable spawning population of charr could be raised.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this department say the Heritage waters should be the best of the best,” said Gary Corson, a fisheries activist from New Sharon. “There’s no doubt that the state’s Heritage Waters [list] contains many of the state’s best brook trout and charr waters. I think that department’s Henderson proposal reverses the intent of the Heritage law and brings us full circle.”

Instead, Corson said, the state seems willing to sacrifice a pristine brook trout pond and use it as just another holding pond for a species that didn’t naturally live there.

“I’d suggest that the department’s proposal to put a nonindigenous [species] into Henderson Pond does nothing but create another stocked water in the state of Maine,” Corson said.

The comments were made during a public hearing on a number of fisheries proposals put forth by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Up for debate were a total of 11 rulemaking proposals that would change regulations on a number of lakes, ponds or thoroughfares around the state. In addition, 10 proposals seek to either remove a water from special protections offered to State Heritage Fish Waters or to add a water to that list.

The rulemaking proposals will face a vote at an upcoming DIF&W advisory council meeting.

About a dozen people attended the hearing, and only three chose to testify.

Before the hearing began, Francis Brautigam, the DIF&W’s director of fisheries and hatcheries, outlined the proposals, including the Henderson Pond plan under consideration.

Brautigam said the department conducted research in three fisheries regions to find a pond that could serve as a host for the Arctic charr, and Henderson Pond topped that list of potential waters.

“The waters, not surprisingly, that offered the best prospects for a new home for Bald Mountain Pond charr are really the Heritage ponds,” Brautigam said. “The Heritage ponds represent some of the best ponds that we have in the state in terms of water quality, in terms of a limited number of species that are present, in terms of overall depth and prospects of success.”

The only testimony offered focused primarily on the state’s Heritage Fish Waters, which are designed to protect waters that harbor native or wild brook trout, and have been either never been stocked, or have not been stocked for 25 years. Those waters are considered prized trout habitat, and among other regulations, the use of live bait on those lakes and ponds is prohibited.

And the proposal to remove Henderson Pond from that list drew most of the ire from the speakers.

Bob Mallard, who spoke on behalf of the Native Fish Coalition, said both Maine and New Hampshire have struggled with charr restoration, and efforts typically fail. He said protecting Henderson Pond and keeping it on the list of protected Heritage waters was essential.

“While we understand and support the need to support Maine’s rare Arctic charr, they are not native to Henderson Pond, and as such would constitute an introduction, not a restoration or reintroduction,” Mallard said. “If we want to preserve the Bald Mountain strain — something we should do — they belong in a hatchery, not in a pond.”

Conservationists also spoke out against removing Heritage Water status from Cold Water Brook Pond, one of the few protected brook trout waters in York County. That pond is smaller than it once was due to a dam failure, but speakers said brook trout still live there, and it is still worth protecting.

Among the rulemaking proposals:

— A rule on Sebago Lake and all direct tributaries that would address the stockpiling of lake trout, which has become a significant concern. The new rule would eliminate the bag limit for lake trout under 26 inches in length, while requiring that all togue between 26 and 33 inches be released at once.

Fisheries officials say there are so many lake trout in Sebago that the current protective slot, which doesn’t allow harvest of fish between 23 and 33 inches, means that the slow-growing fish spend 18 or 19 years in that protective size range before outgrowing the protection. That has led to an overabundance of lake trout.

— A rule that would target a burgeoning landlocked salmon population on the Fish River, including some thoroughfares between lakes, along with Portage Lake, St. Froid Lake, Soldier Pond and its tributaries. The new rule: No bag limit on landlocked salmon less than 14 inches long.

The DIF&W is accepting written comments on the rulemaking proposals until Aug. 24. Comments can be sent to Becky Orff, Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, 284 State Street, 41 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333; or emailed to becky.orff@maine.gov.

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