March 29, 2020
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“What happened to the fish?”

It is with a certain amount of disbelief that I have been reading about Paul Johnson trying to keep pike out of the Penobscot River. In John Holyoke’s column (BDN, March 29), Mr. Johnson says, “Whenever you have an opportunity to stop an introduction of fish, you should capitalize on that.” You see, Mr. Johnson is quite familiar with bad introductions of fish, having learned the hard way from Moosehead Lake.

I am a registered master Maine guide (since 1977) and have fished, guided and worked in the Moosehead Lake area for a quarter of a century. I have watched in total disgust as the fishery has gone down the drain. Many have blamed ice fisherman for the decline and certainly the repeal of the 300-foot shoreline ban and the addition of January to the season didn’t help (the 4- to 8-pound brookies the lake was famous for disappeared within a couple of years), but there was a far more disastrous decision responsible for the lake’s demise.

Back in 1977, a biologist named Phil Andrews, along with Paul Johnson’s help, decided to stock the big lake with Mysis Shrimp, hoping to provide additional forage for the lake trout. Phil had read an article about how the freshwater shrimp had worked well in Yellowstone Lake in Montana to feed their lake trout and, without doing any studies or testing, they dumped the shrimp in the lake and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the worst is what they got. Put simply, Mysis Shrimp eat the zooplancton and phytoplancton that smelts need for their diet. The shrimp have a 10-year cycle and coincidentally peaked in 1987 — the same year the smelts crashed. Two years later, the fishery tanked — no smelts, no fish.

What we’re left with at Moosehead is a lake inundated with lake trout (you can keep four of them a day). They can’t stock any more than 7,500 salmon (in a 75,000-acre lake) because there’s no feed for them anymore. At the Moose River in the spring, famous for its smelt run, the armada of boats has been reduced to a dedicated handful of fishermen.

Along with guiding, I also ran a 26-foot Navy whaleboat (The Vesole) from Rockwood to Kineo, carrying golfers and hikers over to Mt. Kineo. Many times at the Rockwood boat launch, anglers, fresh off the lake would walk up to me with a kind of dumbfounded look on their faces. They would ask me “What happened to the fish?”

After explaining the situation, I would often suggest they give the Rangeley area a try (that’s where I fish now), with the admonition that “They still have huge salmon and football-sized brookies.” As George Smith has pointed out, angler use on Moosehead is down 75 percent over the last 10 years.

Finally, in the continued debate on the restoration of the Penobscot, I hope people listen to all the sides in the discussion — from experts to laymen.

Stuart S. Smith


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