The Battle Against Invasive Fish

 It’s a battle we’ve been losing for decades, as illegally introduced invasive fish species have been spread throughout the state, while concerned anglers and Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife could find no way to stop them or the idiots who spread them from water to water.

On August 16, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine hosted a meeting that may lead to a renewed effort to end the invasive fish epidemic. An impressive group of thirty people participated including representatives from The Nature Conservancy, Maine Audubon, Maine Professional Guides Association, Bass clubs, Trout Unlimited, the Departments of Environmental Protection and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee, and DIF&W’s fishery advisory groups. One legislator, Rep. Ellie Espling, also attended.

I was also there – along with Portland Press Herald outdoor reporter Deirdre Fleming – and have posted a report on my website at www.georgesmithmaine.com. Please read it!

Fleming also wrote a very good piece on invasive fish in the Maine Sunday Telegram. Please read that too.

My blog post tells you how to get involved with SAM’s effort by sharing your ideas with SAM’s Executive Director David Trahan, who seems intent on taking the lead on this critical issue.

While Dave announced that – if he has too – he will propose legislation in 2013 that directs DIF&W to create and implement a comprehensive strategy and policy to address the problems caused by illegal fish introductions, I suggested that we don’t have time for that. I believe DIF&W could create that policy in a couple of hours, if they wanted too.

To get them started, while I sat there at the SAM meeting, I came up with a policy. I invite you to read and consider it, and send me your suggestions. Admittedly, I’ve written the policy in a way to be provocative and to stimulate responses.

In a few weeks, with your help, I’ll be able to submit a policy to DIF&W for consideration. If the department sees no merit in the policy, or does not create an effective policy of its own in the next few months, I will ask a legislative leader to sponsor the policy and help us enact it into law.

Here’s the first draft of the policy. I look forward to hearing your reaction!

Recognize the places where illegally introduced species are established and where they can’t be eradicated, and the fact that there are constituencies of anglers who value those fisheries, and manage those species in those waters to give anglers the type of fishing many obviously want.

Don’t protect illegally introduced species discovered in new waters from this day forward . No length limit. No bag limit. No closed season. Encourage anglers to kill illegally introduced species when and where they catch them (alternative: require anglers to kill them). Don’t advertise and promote fishing for them.

On waters where we still have native brook trout, and no nonnative species, be ready to react immediately with all available means to remove illegally introduced fish from those waters. And take every necessary step to assure that new species don’t get introduced to those waters (including banning the use of live bait on those waters). Inventory those waters every year, to keep a close eye on them and to allow early detection of any new species introduced there.

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.