A contentious proposal to stock hatchery fish in Portage Lake in Aroostook County has been denied. While the proposal came from a DIFW Regional Fisheries biologist, with support from most of the agency’s other fisheries biologists, it was sharply criticized by a few biologists.
Perhaps the most significant criticism came from Merry Gallagher, the department’s lead brook trout biologist. Here’s what Merry wrote:
“I can’t support your proposal for Portage Lake as is because you are proposing to stock hatchery brook trout over a remaining wild component in the North zone. Since this is a previous “B list” water and there are other Heritage Waters in the system, I think all attempts to increase wild recruitment and alleviate current threats should be a primary strategy.”
DIFW cited a number of reasons for denying the request, including ‘uncertainty regarding success.” But the real issue was a possible impact on our wild native brook trout in Portage Lake and other nearby waters.
The department did say, “stocking a relatively low density of hatchery brook trout in the fall was not expected to significantly compete with relatively low numbers of wild brook trout that are present in the lake at that time.”
That is certainly not the way one of the department’s fisheries biologist saw it. He wrote, “Whether they are stocked directly or indirectly, the integrity of state heritage waters should not be jeopardized by hatchery-reared fishes, and this stocking proposal will do just that.
“It appears there is considerable social pressure surrounding this stocking proposal. Understandably, anglers want to catch fish (i.e. brook trout) close to home. However, it seems that there must be other smaller waters (e.g. town ponds, farm ponds, small public waters, quarries, etc.) in close proximity that will provide much higher returns and not threaten State Heritage Fish Waters or other self-sustaining salmonid populations. Even if other viable stocking waters are unavailable, this stocking should not happen. It’s not worth the risk or scrutiny.”
I certainly agreed with him.
And I was very pleased by the department’s decision, and the comments of Joe Overlock, who sent me the decision: “A written decision was developed for this proposal, as well as the recently reviewed proposals for Lower Shaw Pond in Somerset County and Levenseller Pond in Waldo County. The written decisions are part of a revised review process, with the intent of creating accountability for the decision and providing clear understanding of the issues considered.”
This too, is good news.
The department did feel it was necessary to defend their hatchery fish, writing “Department fish culture facilities propagate high quality, disease-free fish that are essential for the creation and maintenance of diverse fishing opportunities throughout the state, enjoyed by an equally diverse angling community.”
I was interested to learn that a recent genetic study concluded that brook trout in the Fish River chain have strong signatures that differ from other drainages.
And here’s the concluding remarks, which really recognize the key issue here: “The Department’s decision not to stock portage Lake also relied on input concerns from agency leadership. The direct stocking and associated interaction risk to one of the eight major lakes on the main stem of the Fish River chain was a consideration. The unique circumstances regarding the location of this proposed stocking, and the statewide significance of the unique wild fishery was another influential consideration; the uncertainty of even low potential risks from interactions between stocked and wild brook trout weighed in the decision.”
Excellent! I particularly appreciated this statement at the end of the decision, which was written by Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries. “The management and conservation of wild brook trout populations will remain an important focus of future management in the Fish River chain, and as such, any future stocking proposals will be subject to a high level of scrutiny. The future development of water specific management plans in the Fish River chain will benefit from current and future studies conducted by the department to increase understanding of seasonal movement and habitat use by both wild salmon and brook trout. This information will support informed decision-making in the conservation of this important statewide resource.”