Earlier this week, I told you that Beech Hill Pond in Otis is now the home of landlocked alewives, the latest water to become a victim of lame-brained bucket stockers in need of a more productive hobby.
After that story hit the internet, I became aware of a few alarming things. First, some folks think the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is to blame. Second, some think the introduction is no big deal. And third, many apparently don’t know a landlocked alewife from an anadromous — or sea-run — alewife.
Let’s start with the final part first. I’ll make it as simple as I can, and may be overstating things a bit in order to make a point. Bear with me.
Landlocked alewives: BAD. They’re like the family members who show up at your house, eat all of your food, mess up the place and refuse to leave. Seriously. They refuse to leave forever.
Anadromous alewives: GOOD. They’re like tourists. They show up when the weather’s nice, enjoy the sights, spend a bit of cash, spawn a bit and then, before snow flies, they’ve headed on back to wherever they are from. And while they are heading home, they crowd the highways and provide cover for the rest of us, making it less likely that us Mainers will get caught for speeding.
Or something like that.
So, why are landlocked alewives — not the anadromous alewives that have, in fact, been the subject of restoration efforts over the past several years — bad?
Well, some studies suggest that landlocked alewives eat a lot of zooplankton and will outcompete rainbow smelts in their quest for that food source. That, in turn, leads to a struggling smelt population. And the fish that rely on smelts for their own growth and survival, such as landlocked salmon? Well, they struggle, too.
Beech Hill Pond has plenty of landlocked salmon. It also has abundant lake trout and actually produced the state-record laker back in 1958. Studies also suggest that lake trout may fare better on a diet of landlocked alewives than salmon do, but in the Great Lakes there has been concern about the structural integrity of the eggs of lake trout that have been subsisting on a landlocked alewife diet.
After our first story ran, I circled back to Greg Burr, the DIF&W biologist who covers Beech Hill Pond, seeking a few more details.
Specifically, I wanted to know when the department learned about the landlocked alewives, and how he was sure the fish hadn’t swum freely upstream from nearby Graham Lake, which does have anadromous alewives. You know, the good kind. Essentially, I was asking him if it was at all possible that Beech Hill had more of a tourist problem, rather than a full-fledged forever problem.
The news was not good.
Biologists found the landlocked alewives in their live-capture nets in October, and immediately reported the finding to the Maine Warden Service, Burr said in an email.
“There were dozens of them,” he wrote. Then, he got to the worst part. “There are no lakes and ponds that flow into Beech Hill, and there is an impassable ledge barrier on the outlet so there is no place they could free-swim from.”
Seeking another opinion, I reached out to Dwayne Shaw, executive director of the Downeast Salmon Federation, and asked him if he agreed with Burr’s assessment that the fish in question were undoubtedly landlocked alewives.
Burr outlined some concerns and said the department will keep a close eye on the situation at Beech Hill over the coming years.
“Because every lake is different the reaction of the ecosystem at Beech Hill Pond is still in question,” Burr wrote. “As such, we will be collecting data on this situation annually to assess what effects they have on the current fisheries. We do know that in many cases landlocked alewives compete directly with smelts, which is the main forage for salmon and togue at Beech Hill. If this happens at Beech Hill, the growth and condition of the salmon and togue could be negatively affected.”
And finally, to those who think the illegal introduction of fish into a water is no big deal, consider this.
“Once established in a large water such as Beech Hill, there is virtually no way of eradicating them,” Burr said.
That means that landlocked alewives will likely be in Beech Hill Pond forever.
All because one fool thought it would be a good idea to put them there. Theories on intentional illegal stockings vary. Some have said that they think the perpetrators have a grudge against the DIF&W, or game wardens, or conservationists in general. Others think bucket stockers are trying to create their own dream fishery in their local lake or pond (though, in this case, that seems to make little sense).
And Burr admits that he has no idea why anyone would want to stock an invasive species into Beech Hill Pond.
Alas, it has been done. And everyone who recreates there — myself included — will have to deal with that new reality. Forever.
Here are a few wishes for the new year: That someone, somewhere knows who put these landlocked alewives into this beautiful coldwater pond. That they have a conscience. That they want to do the right thing. That they call 800-ALERT-US and report the perpetrator. And that finally, the person responsible for an illegal fish introduction is properly punished.
That, at least, is the hope.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke