If you’re an outdoors enthusiast who regularly reads these pages, you’ve likely seen and heard about the massive kill of lake trout during last weekend’s ice fishing derby at Sebago Lake.
Apparently emboldened by a Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife directive to harvest more lake trout so that landlocked salmon will have enough food to thrive, some angler or anglers caught and killed dozens of lake trout.
Then, at the end of the derby, they just left all those dead fish on the ice and went home.
Adding to the dismay that many felt: Derby officials were ready and willing to cut up and process any excess lake trout that were turned in, and planned to donate the meat to food pantries so the fish would be utilized.
We’ve run a couple of columns that are critical of the DIF&W’s “harvest more fish” decree. Still, blaming the state agency for what happened at Sebago isn’t fair. A more reasonable response to the department’s “harvest more fish” advisory would have been to simply take a few more fish home to eat.
Not, as was the case, to leave the fish to rot, or to be eaten by scavengers.
On ice fishing message boards and during in-person conversations, you’ll sometimes hear anglers talk about “leaving a fish for the eagles.”
Some likely think that what took place at Sebago simply meant that the eagles on that southern Maine lake ate like kings for a few days after the derby.
I’d argue that eagles (and other carrion-eaters) are wild animals that don’t need our handouts.
And one fact is crystal clear: When anglers act like this, and show such disregard for the species they’re targeting, they cast a cloud over all of us who enjoy spending a day on the water.
Many of us love ice fishing, but there are plenty of others who’d rather see us all go away. Why? Fisheries conservationists will tell you that ice anglers have the reputation of being game hogs, and of killing way too many fish. They’ll point out that even those fish that are released, if exposed to freezing air and allowed to flop around in the snow, are quite likely to die after they’re returned to the water.
Lake-dwellers who live on the shores year-round will tell you that many ice anglers are slobs, leaving beer cans, trash and human waste on the ice when their day of fishing is done.
With those biases against ice fishing already in place — and trust me, they are — what will the non-fishing public say about a group of anglers who kill for the sake of killing, then discard piles of dead fish on the ice when they pack up and head for home?
Unfortunately, what happened at Sebago isn’t unprecedented. Many ice anglers see some species as “trash fish,” unworthy of being left alive.
At the Long Lake derby in northern Maine, one such species is deemed undesirable; a cash prize is given to the angler who catches and kills the most yellow perch. This year, an angler turned in 404 perch — quite a haul for two days of fishing.
Hopefully, those fish were used. For something. Anything.
That kind of kill-’em-all ethic troubles me, whether it involves a “trash fish” like perch or a “game fish” like lake trout.
I shake my head. I tell myself that we — us anglers — are better than that.
Sadly, on days like this, when I look at a photo of dozens of dead fish scattered across a frozen lake, I find myself wondering if that’s true.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.