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Great Lakes Article:

Don't hang Moosehead's fishing problems on the biologists
Submitted by Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Paul Johnson
Published March 21st, 2005

(March 21): In a recent letter to editors of several Maine newspapers Mt. Desert Island's resident fishery biologist wannabe Dennis L. Smith challenged DIF&W's Fishery Division biologists "to devise a plan to do everything possible within present budget constraints and through the use of length and bag limits including catch and release if necessary to preserve, protect and enhance the wild brook trout of Moosehead Lake."

In issuing such a challenge he was really taking a cheap shot at fishery biologists for not doing anything to save Moosehead's wild brook trout from the illegal introductions of smallmouth bass (1970's) and white perch (1980's).

Let's take a look at what biologists might realistically hope to do about these illegal introductions. The cost of developing either chemical or biological agents that will target and eliminate, or even reduce in abundance, only bass and perch has been and remains beyond the financial resources available to the state. Species-specific agents have been developed to control fish like the lamprey eel in the Great Lakes, at great cost and after many years of research. This is beyond the reach of Maine's fishery biologists, but perhaps Dennis can put his money where his pen(keyboard) is and start a campaign to fund such a research effort.

As for fishing regulations, Dennis is very naive if he thinks that more fishing regulations will save Moosehead's brook trout. Fishing regulations are an effective tool at protecting a species when fishing (that's exploitation by humans) is the major factor limiting the population.

At Moosehead, added competition with and predation on brook trout by smallmouth bass and white perch are the factors that ultimately result in the demise of a viable wild brook trout fishery. That competition and predation occurs at the earliest life stages of the trout, when they are less than six inches long.

Brook trout tolerate very little competition, and in Moosehead, prior to the introductions of smallmouth bass and white perch, yellow perch had already taken their toll on the trout population. Yellow perch, and now white perch and smallmouth bass, occupy the same habitat as the brook trout, especially the young trout, so the opportunity for predation/competition is almost constant.

Consider the reproductive potential of the predators/competitors - 7,000 eggs per one pound female smallmouth, and 30,000 to 100,000 eggs per average size yellow or white perch.

Compare that to the brook trout - about 500 eggs per one pound female. At production rates 10 to 200 times higher than brook trout it should not surprise anyone as to which species will ultimately dominate the habitat once the stronghold of wild brook trout.

Thirty years ago biologists took the responsible action by warning about the threat that smallmouth bass would pose to brook trout when Wayne Hockmeyer advocated introducing them to Moosehead. Their warning fell on deaf ears, and Wayne and/or his associates took matters into their own hands. In the 1980's biologists were not afforded the courtesy of an advance warning before Bernard DeAugustine and his associates hauled white perch to Moosehead from Caribou Lake. We are now living with their legacy; the trout will not. There are no size or bag limits regulating the take of yellow perch, white perch, or smallmouth bass from Moosehead Lake. So have at 'em Dennis, if it will make you feel good. Unfortunately, that will not solve the problem. There is no large Maine lake that supports populations of yellow perch, white perch, and smallmouth bass AND a viable fishery for wild brook trout. That's a fact.

So, Dennis, I'm sorry, and to put it in the words of another American, "I feel your pain." You are correct about one thing however; once gone the wild brook trout will be gone forever. But trying to hang that around the neck of dedicated fishery biologists won't solve the problem either.

Paul Johnson, Regional Biolgist, Moosehead Region

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