Beach Hill Pond: Maine IFW Misses Another Opportunity

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Beach Hill Pond: Maine IFW Misses Another Opportunity

Bob Mallard - National Vice Chair, Native Fish Coalition

Maine has just suffered another in a long line of potentially devastating highly-invasive nonnative fish introductions, and once again, the culprit is a baitfish not a gamefish. Specifically, nonnative landlocked alewives have been confirmed in Beech Hill Pond in Otis Maine.

Beech Hill Pond is just 3 miles as the crow flies from Floods Pond, a critically important national gene bank for rare Arctic charr. While there is no direct connection between the ponds, they are indirectly linked due to the fact that both empty into Graham Lake.

Landlocked alewives are different than ocean alewives (anadromous alewives) in that they do not migrate to and from the ocean... They live in freshwater lakes their entire lives but can move from lake to lake and [in this case] may possibly move down into Graham Lake. [MDIFW]
Note the near 4” size of the largest

Note the near 4” size of the largest

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife [MDIFW] went public with the news around the first of the year when an angler posted about it on social media:

We did confirm that there are now landlocked alewives in Beech Hill Pond. This would have been due to an illegal introduction... This could be very detrimental to Beech Hill Ponds fisheries. [MDIFW]

To be fair, Beech Hill Pond is already home to nonnative landlocked salmon and smallmouth bass, both the result of earlier introductions, the former state-sponsored and the latter likely an illegal introduction. The lake does however hold the state record for lake trout, a fish of 31 pounds 8 ounces, a native species from what I can tell.

It is also important to note that while the lake is open to the use of live bait, alewives, of any sort, are not a legal bait species and therefore their use as such is against the law, or “illegal.” And it is clear that the alewives did not get there on their own:

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. [MDIFW]

It is interesting that MDIFW used the term “illegal introduction” without explanation. While any act involving landlocked alewives would have been technically illegal, this implies so-called “bucket biology”, or a deliberate stocking event, to many. In fact, here’s what well-respected outdoor writer John Holyoke from the Bangor Daily News, the person who broke the story, had to say:

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.

While their intent is not clear, unless MDIFW knows something we don’t they should not jump to the conclusion, or even imply, that the alewives entered the lake via a deliberate stocking. Since the lake is open to the use of live bait, it is equally possible, and some would say more so, that they got there via their intentional or accidental use as bait.

And apparently, even MDIFW has their doubts as to why someone would deliberately introduce these highly invasive fish to the lake:

And [MDIFW biologist] Burr admits that he has no idea why anyone would want to stock an invasive species into Beech Hill Pond. [Bangor Daily News]

Holyoke went on to say, “some folks think the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is to blame”, in a follow-up to his initial article about the situation. While meant to defend the department, he is right, MDIFW is somewhat to blame. For years the department has defended what it calls “traditional fishing methods” to the point where it sounds like protecting how we fish is more important than protecting fish.

For example, there is a park-wide restriction on live bait in Baxter State Park: “Closed to the taking and use of live baitfish in all park waters.” Outside the park however; including Lower Toque Pond, Grand Lake Matagamon, and Webster Lake that straddle the border; live bait is allowed on many waters:

BAXTER STATE PARK WATERS, T2 R9 WELS, T6 R8 WELS, etc. (North Region). General fishing laws apply, except: Closed to the taking and use of live baitfish in all park waters. [MDIFW Fishing Law Book]

A similar situation exists in New Brunswick. While they have a Province-wide prohibition on the use of live bait, the only exception to the rule is on waters that border Maine. I think it’s fair to assume that this is due to the fact that IFW would not agree to a reciprocal ban making any ban futile: 

No person shall use or possess live fish (including crayfish) as bait in inland waters.– Exception: On international boundary waters (between Maine and New Brunswick). [NB Fishing Law Book]

New Brunswick even goes as far as requiring their own citizens to trap their bait at the source, not buy it from a dealer or trap it from a secondary source and bring it to the water. Unfortunately, they have no jurisdiction to hold Maine residents to the same common sense restriction: fish may be used as bait provided they are obtained from the water being fished and are not on the prohibited list. [NB Fishing Law Book]

According to Holyoke, and disappointingly, we also learned that while MDIFW first acknowledged the presence of these highly invasive fish in early January, they had known about it for over two months but failed to disclose it to the public for reasons that are not clear:

Biologists found the landlocked alewives in their live-capture nets in October, and immediately reported the finding to the Maine Warden Service.

Holyoke states later in his second article that while he wonders why “one fool thought it would be a good idea to put them there,” he says there are other theories floating around, and as a reporter, it’s fair to assume that he heard them first- or second-hand:

Some have said that they think the perpetrators have a grudge against the DIF&W, or game wardens, or conservationists in general. [Bangor Daily News]

I personally struggle with the idea that any sportsman, no matter how mean-spirited or ignorant of the facts they are, would deliberately put their own sport or fishery at risk just to get back at MDIFW for some perceived slight. This comes with a high price and little if any reward as you can’t even take credit, for the lack of a better word, for it due to the steep fines associated with such acts.

As for getting back at conservationists, unfortunately there could be some validity to this as there are unfortunately some out there who are so deeply entrenched in their use of live bait that they see anyone who is trying to reel it in for the sake of protecting the resource as the enemy. But why would they compromise a lake that was already compromised by salmon and bass and therefore not a high priority of conservationists?

Sadly, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife just missed another opportunity to educate the masses as to the risks and dangers associated with the use of live fish as bait. That this occurred in the middle of one of their biggest live bait initiatives ever makes it even tougher to understand as it shows exactly why the concept they are promoting has merit.

And disappointingly, MDIFW has once again provided cover for a high-impact user they seem to be beholden to more than those of us who just want to see this stuff stop. Live bait is a huge problem in Maine, and arguably the biggest threat to Maine’s wild native fish. While the alewives are likely now there to stay, maybe we could have got at least some good out of this situation by using it as a learning tool.

Click Here to Read the First Article

Click Here to Read the Second Article