May 20, 2018
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Bucket Biologists Amok

Illegal stocking of fish is the most selfish of crimes. It is also one of the hardest to prosecute. That’s why if fishermen are offended by people putting non-native fish, such as pike and smallmouth bass, into lakes and streams where they’ve never been before, they must step up. The only way this illegal stocking can be reduced is if fishermen speak up.

As John Holyoke wrote in his weekend column, “Somewhere, someone knows something about many of the illegal stocking cases that have yet to be solved. All it may take to blow each of those cases open is a single phone call.”

He even gave the number: 800-ALERT-US.

Without such phone calls, illegal stocking looks like an insurmountable problem.

Game Warden Maj. Gregory Sanborn laid out the math in Mr. Holyoke’s column. Maine has more than 6,000 bodies of water; there are 35 to 40 game wardens on patrol on any given day, tending to their numerous duties in addition to looking for “bucket biologists.” That leaves a lot of water unsupervised.

The release of a pacu, a cousin of the piranha, into a pond in Limestone got a lot of attention last month. The fish, which was illegal to own in Maine, was released by a man who didn’t want it anymore.

Joe LaPierre has been charged with illegally stocking inland waters and with possessing a restricted species of fish without a permit. Both charges are Class E crimes that could result in fines between $1,000 and $10,000.

Allowing an exotic fish such as a pacu to go in Maine is problematic because of the diseases and parasites it could introduce.

This case was cracked because someone in town told wardens they had seen the pacu in Mr. LaPierre’s fish tank, according to news reports. When he was questioned, he admitted owning the fish and dumping it in the pond.

Most stocking is more stealthy — and harder to track.

“We’ve never had, in my memory, a successful prosecution of what I would call a catastrophic stocking, where people have introduced fish into a well-known trout pond. We’ve never been able to put one of those together,” Warden Maj. Sanborn told Mr. Holyoke.

A cooler or bucket, a dark night and someone eager to catch bass or pike in front of his camp is all it takes for lake to be transformed. It’s happened on Pushaw Lake, Belgrade Lake and countless other water bodies.

To make matters worse, many anglers see no problem because they just want to catch fish — no matter what the species and whether they belong in the pond where they’re fishing.

Wardens clearly face an uphill battle against the bucket biologists. Only the public — especially other anglers and camp owners — can turn the tide.

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