On Monday, the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission made many of the state’s salmon anglers smile when it announced its hopes to open the Penobscot River for a catch-and-release season as early as September of 2006.
Salmon returns to the river have increased since 1999, when the river was closed to fishing, and the possibility of a fall season would seem to indicate everything’s rosy.
Not so fast.
Another topic of discussion at the ASC’s meeting drew the ire of both commissioners and anglers, and is worth mentioning.
As reported earlier, northern pike have been illegally introduced in Penobscot County. On Monday, the ASC and the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife said they’re both willing to do whatever they can to control and (when possible) eradicate the species.
A northern pike was caught in Pushaw Lake in 2003, and another was caught in 2004. Earlier this year a 26-inch female, which was carrying eggs, was landed during ice-fishing season.
And Patrick Keliher, the executive director of the ASC, said that the presence of another predator is a bad thing for salmon.
“It’s really a sad state of affairs when we have bucket biologists who think they are smarter than the fisheries biologists in this state,” Keliher said. “And they’re going to continue [to illegally stock fish] until we can find ways to stop them.”
One way to make that happen: Any citizen who knows who dumped pike in Pushaw (or any other fish in another Maine lake or pond) can call the state’s Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-ALERT-US and anonymously report the activity.
Pushaw Lake is a 5,056-acre lake that features a weedy, warm-water habitat that’s ideal for pike.
“They prefer shallow bays, flooded wetlands and rooty vegetation, so if anybody knows anything about Pushaw Lake, it’s a great place for pike to spawn,” ASC biologist Richard Dill said.
And pike are known as voracious predators who switch to an all-fish diet at 30 days old and can feed on fish up to one-half their own length.
That means pike are a threat to juvenile salmon, as well as other fish.
“We may see a change in the abundance of [Pushaw Lake’s native species] in the years to come,” Dill said.
Pushaw Lake sprawls over five communities: Bangor, Glenburn, Orono, Old Town and Hudson. The ASC is particularly concerned because any pike venturing out of Pushaw down Pushaw Stream has a short 11-mile journey before it ends up in the Penobscot River.
The ASC passed a motion vowing to remain aggressive in its efforts to control and eradicate pike in the Penobscot watershed, and many mentioned education as a key component in future projects at Pushaw.
While removing an existing species of fish from a watershed may not be possible, the ASC and DIF&W are planning to do as much as they can.
Keliher said the fact Pushaw is a large lake with many lakefront homes eliminates some of the more severe options, such as using chemicals that would kill the pike … but all the other fish as well.
Tagging and monitoring pike may show which spawning grounds are favored by the fish, which may make them vulnerable during the spring spawning run.
“We’re extremely concerned, and we’re disappointed that we can’t be aggressive,” he said. “Once we have the information, through creel census, through some telemetry studies, if we can isolate where these fish are going to be in the spring, then we can try to work on direct removal through several different methods.”
Despite the threat, Keliher said he was encouraged the DIF&W and the ASC each see the presence of pike as a serious threat.
“I think it’s a very positive sign that the commission and the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife biologists are working very closely on this,” he said. “I wish we could just say, ‘Oh, let’s [apply chemicals] and be done,’ but that’s not the case. We need to find ways to assess so that we can then make targeted removals.”
So, what do you think?
If you’ve got an opinion about the possibility of opening the Penobscot for a fall Atlantic salmon fishery in 2006, I’d like to hear from you and share your comments in a future column.
What’s your general reaction to the news? Will you be out there, fly rod in hand, if the river is reopened next September? Is it too much, too soon? Or too little, not soon enough?
Whatever your opinion, I’m curious … and I’m sure your fellow salmon anglers are, too.
If you do choose to respond, e-mail is the best option. Just be sure to tell me your full name and what town you’re from. Any other tidbits or background information that involves your passion for fishing for Atlantic salmon would be helpful as well.
I’m looking forward to your responses, and to sharing your thoughts with our readers.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 990-8214 or 1-800-310-8600.