Crappie Messages on Invasive Fish Species

 

In what may be a watershed (literally) event, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine on August 16 will host a meeting on invasive fish species. I plan to attend, participate, and write about this important event. And I’ve just posted a preview of the event in the Outdoor News blog on my website: www.georgesmithmaine.com.

The mixed messages about invasive fish species could not have been more evident than these two headlines from Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“A popular Newcomer: Black Crappie,” trumpeted one headline in a recent DIF&W Weekly Newsletter. “MDIFW Encouraging the Taking of Largemouth Bass,” was the headline in a June 28 agency press release.

The latter effort comes after the discovery of illegally introduced largemouth bass in the Grand Falls Flowage. The “popular crappie” is also an illegally introduced species, now found in more than 300 Maine waters.

“It’s very unfortunate that illegal stocking continues,” said Chandler Woodcock in the June 28 press release, “and it’s time that Maine’s angling community takes notice.”

Well, I took notice of DIF&W Fisheries Biologist Jason Seiders upbeat newsletter article on crappie, in which he noted, “Black crappie are a popular sportfish and panfish in their native range, which extends from Florida to the Great Lakes and many spots in between. In recent years, black crappie have continued to be illegally introduced into Maine waters and are now widely distributed throughout central Maine.

Seiders went on to help anglers with information on where and how to fish for crappies. “Region B now has 45 lakes and ponds with populations of black crappie,” wrote Seiders, “and likely several more that are yet to be discovered. While the black crappie is an exotic invader, it has been embraced by many central Maine anglers as a sportfish that makes excellent table fare.

Waters such as Cobbosseecontee Lake, Hermon Pond, and Unity Pond are now popular destinations of anglers seeking black crappie. These fish are usually targeted with live bait and small jigs and can be caught in large numbers in certain areas. Anglers fish for black crappie during both the open water season and through the ice.”

To his credit, Seiders did note, “While some anglers enjoy this new fishing opportunity, the Department and many anglers remain concerned about the spread of this exotic species.”

Apparently not concerned enough to stop promoting the fishery.

Invasive nonnative fish and plants have changed my life. Some have changed things for the better, others not so much. DIF&W seems to feel the same way. They celebrate some illegally introduced species while urging anglers to kill others.

I once enjoyed spectacular landlocked salmon fishing on Long Pond in Belgrade. Then some idiot dumped northern pike into the lake. These voracious predators have changed the lake forever. My salmon are gone.

On the other hand, or water, I love fishing for nonnative smallmouth bass, a feisty jumper that has been spread statewide by anglers (illegally) and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (legally).

I’m not sure Chandler recognized the irony in his press statement urging the killing of largemouth bass, because they “could jeopardize one of the nation’s premier smallmouth bass fishing destinations.”

Chandler was on Grand Falls Flowage lasts month, electrofishing the water with his fisheries staff to find out how bad a problem largemouths may be. I’m not sure he had a shore lunch of largemouths if he found them there.

Certainly, he couldn’t possibly have put them back into the water, as a fisheries biologist did a couple of years ago on Belgrade’s Long Pond. He caught five species in his nets that day – all illegally introduced to the water – and killed only one, the walleye. The rest he dumped back into the lake, including northern pike and crappie. And then he issued a statement predicting great crappie fishing there!

Clearly, he was making a judgment call that day. I would prefer walleyes to crappie. Maybe he should have killed the crappie and released the walleyes. They are really fun to catch and very tasty.

Very few seem concerned that smallmouth bass, a nonnative species, has turned into our state’s number one fishery. Twice as many bass are caught each year in Maine than native brook trout, an astonishing fact. On the other hand, I enjoy photographing and eating the most invasive plant in Maine, dandelions.

We are conflicted about nonnative invasive species, both plants and fish. Some we love. Some we love to hate. Those we love are often not even recognized as nonnative to our state. Those we hate are always referred to as invasive and usually as illegally introduced.

That’s crappy.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.