Old News Archive

IFW Outdoor Report - Why We Stock

April 03, 2007 - TRC

Why Do We Stock ?

We receive lots of questions regarding fish stocking in Maine. Why do we stock ? Why don't we stock more ? What species do we stock and why ? Why do we stock varying sizes and ages of fish ? In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to answer some of these questions.

Maine stocks about one and one quarter million fish each year. Most of these fish are six inches or larger when released into the wild. All of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife's fish culture or hatchery program consists of growing various species of trout and landlocked salmon. At the current time we are raising brook trout, brown trout, lake trout (togue), landlocked salmon, splake (a brook trout/lake trout hybrid) and rainbow trout.

We stock fish to provide fishing opportunities for anglers that would not otherwise be available. Each of the state's nearly 6000 lakes and ponds and almost 32,000 miles of rivers and streams present some type of angling opportunity as well as management challenges.

Historically, fish stocking 50 to 100 years ago was done with little knowledge of the habitat requirements for a given species or the dynamics of a particular ecosystem. In the early 1950's fishery managers began to study these ecosystems to gain an understanding of how they operated in order to make informed decisions for future management of these waters. As more information was gathered, management recommendations resulted in a variety of stocking changes. In many situations the species to be stocked was changed. Perhaps many didn't realize that at one time Maine stocked four species of Pacific salmon. In other instances changes were made in the size of fish stocked. Years ago millions of tiny fry were planted in waters with large populations of predatory fish, resulting in few returns to the angler. In addition, many stockings especially in brooks and streams were stopped completely as there were adequate populations of wild trout.

IFWís fish stocking programs actually fall into four categories: introductory stocking, maintenance stocking, experimental stocking and put and take stocking. Introductory, maintenance and experimental stockings would all fall into the category of "biological" stocking programs. In each of these the habitat, water quality and available forage would be assessed and considered to be suitable to allow a stocked fish to survive and grow to legal size. Of these three types of programs the introductory one is the smallest. In this program we would consider all conditions to be suitable including sufficient spawning area for the species being stocked. Generally, after a few years, stocking can be discontinued and the fishery will maintain itself through natural reproduction. In fact, in a few of our brook trout waters we have established self-sustaining populations with a single stocking.

The largest part of Maine's stocking is considered a maintenance stocking program where routine, continuous stocking (on various time tables) may be made to supplement an insufficient amount of natural reproduction or substitute where there is a complete lack of natural reproduction. The lack of natural reproduction is generally a result of no suitable spawning habitat. We often get the question: Do stocked fish spawn ? Yes, indeed they would spawn very nicely assuming there was suitable habitat conditions for successful spawning. Since many of Maine's waters have great habitat for growth and survival of stocked fish, but lack spawning area, our maintenance stocking program must continue.

The last of our three biological stocking programs is experimental. Experimental stocking is used in special situations to help us predict the success of a new program where complex biological interactions exist. Fish may be stocked on an experimental basis, and once information is gathered, the program may be changed, continued or stopped, depending on the results of the stocking. Past and present examples of our experimental programs include stocking of brown trout in tidal rivers such as the Mousam and Ogunquit, while currently we are conducting an experimental stocking with rainbow trout in several waters in central and southern Maine.

Our one non-biological program is called ďput and takeĒ stocking and consists of stocking legal-sized fish into waters where they are expected to be caught within a short time. These waters generally do not provide the right conditions to hold trout over the entire year (for example, the water may be too warm in the summer, or too low) or there may be very heavy fishing, such as waters near larger urban areas.

This stocking provides a short-term fishery that must be maintained by continuous stocking during periods when the habitat conditions are suitable. Most of this program is conducted in high population areas where other opportunities for trout fishing may not exist, i.e. spring stocking of some of the brooks in York and Cumberland Counties. Since hatchery space is limited, the stocking of large numbers of legal-sized fish is also limited. In a few years, as a result of the seven million dollar bond issue, we will be able to increase the number of ďput and takeĒ trout. In addition, a program such as this would not be considered where there are adequate numbers of wild fish.

All "biological" stocking programs are done with considerable thought and information available to each regional fishery staff. Many years ago department fisheries biologists established a set of guidelines for stocking. These guidelines include recommendations on species to be stocked, size of fish at stocking and numbers to be stocked. Species, size and numbers are based on the available habitat for the species to be stocked and the amount of competition from other fish species and the available forage (feed).

In order to give our biological stocking programs the best chance of success, fish quality goals (size and condition of fish at a particular age) are established for all species and strains grown in our hatchery system. Department fish culturists strive to meet these goals in order to provide for better survival following stocking and greater returns to the anglers. They take great pride in the products they stock and are continually finding ways to improve them.

IFW has nine hatcheries and rearing stations. Hatcheries are just that, where fish are hatched and also raised. A rearing station is where some fish are moved to after hatching. Each of these nine facilities represent sites which have proven to be conducive to the production of a certain species of coldwater fish. Some of them are fed by lake water, while others receive their water supplies from springs and underground wells.

Fish production schedules are planned several years in advance to assure the number and size of a particular species or strain are available to meet the needs of anglers. Exactly what species are produced by a particular facility are governed by the need for specific species, strain and size of the fish, the suitability of a facility for certain species and the geographic need for a specific species.

Another "special" program is the stocking of many of our larger, "retired" hatchery brood stock. These give anglers the opportunity to catch a trophy size fish. Brown trout measure out from 26-28 inches, togue are 26-28 inches, and the brook trout released are up to 22 inches in size. The brood stock are the fathers and mothers that produce the fingerlings, fry and yearlings the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stock throughout the year. The biological clock has stopped ticking for these fish, they are no longer active in their reproduction cycle, so they are released into the wild. Fish range in age from three to twelve years. A list of stocked fish is available through our department or on our website.

And of course, you may wonder just how they do get into those 700 lakes, rivers, streams and ponds ? There isnít one process used for all them. It depends on the geographic location of the water body, and its accessibility. Some are stocked by running a hose from a hatchery truck to the water and some are moved to ponds by a bucket that is filled at the truck. We use airplanes to bring fish to remote ponds where travel by truck is not feasible, and in some areas, we backpack them in as fry in a specially made pack frame designed to carry very small fish. The stocking of many waters also includes the boating of fish to various sections of a water body to spread the fish out and reduce attacks on them by predators such as larger fish or birds.

Hopefully this has given you an overview of IFWís stocking programs. If you are looking for a list of what bodies of water we stock, give us a call at 287-8000, or by check us out online at www.mefishwildlife.com.

-Peter Bourque, Director of Fisheries Program Development, Department of Inland fisheries and Wildlife


Number and Weight of Fish Stocked From Maine State Hatcheries 1962 - present

Year....Number............Weight............# of
of fish of fish hatcheries

1962.....1,924,971.........170,035...........13
1963.....2,083,029.........134,283...........14
1964.....3,138,157.........182,179...........14
1965.....1,956,826.........137,096...........13
1966.....2,425,947.........144,805...........13
1967.....1,645,432.........121,534...........12
1968.....1,238,700.........114,475...........11
1969.....1,524,751.........117,306...........10
1970.....2,243,633.........155,484...........10
1971.....1,916,796.........158,022...........10
1972.....2,050,692.........143,484...........10
1973.....2,585,498.........136,130...........10
1974.....2,504,086.........138,029...........10
1975.....2,096,118.........154,197...........10
1976.....1,823,371.........161,817...........10
1977.....1,380,808.........129,579...........10
1978.....1,492,128.........162,126...........10
1979.....1,273,549.........136,399...........10
1980.....1,817,694.........161,368...........10
1981.....1,491,953.........139,086.............9
1982.....1,195,925.........147,874.............9
1983........982,556.........158,261.............9
1984.....1,296,456.........157,684.............9
1985.....1,392,473.........160,156.............9
1986.....1,359,472.........186,658.............9
1987.....1,843,412.........224,214.............9
1988.....1,592,040.........196,599.............9
1989.....1,611,601.........217,677.............9
1990.....1,335,610.........199,152.............9
1991.....1,557,292.........207,519.............9
1992.....1,651,402.........250,104.............9
1993.....1,407,635.........205,179.............9
1994.....1,551,373.........222,036.............9
1995.....1,086,615.........241,925.............9
1996.....1,018,520.........249,792.............9
1997.....1,203,974.........243,107.............9
1998.....1,271,197.........256,980.............9
1999.....1,252,176.........255,657.............9
2000.....1,229,844.........240,826.............9
2001.....1,204,722.........261,100.............9
2002.......986, 532.........273,397.............9
2003.....1,408,879.........291,317.............9
2004.....1,187,258.........319,154.............9
2005.....1,058,491.........298,606.............8
2006.....1,282,818.........339,672.............9



ILLEGAL STOCKING, THE THREAT GROWS

Spring has arrived early in Maine. The ice has disappeared from the lakes and ponds of coastal, southern, and central Maine and winterís armor has weakened on the waters of Northern and Western Maine. Itís time! Time to dust of the tackle box, clean and oil that reel, inspect your waders for leaks. Time to tie one last fly, prepare the outboard and canoe for their summerís work.

Itís time to think, too. Time to recall past springs and memorable trips of long ago. Time to plan this seasonís fishing with friends and family. But, unfortunately, there is a long-standing and rapidly growing menace on the horizon that disquiets our gentle reveries of fishing adventures gone by and threatens our dreams of trips to come.

What we have

Maineís native, self-sustaining populations of landlocked salmon, lake trout and brook trout are an abundant natural resource, uncommon to the rest of the United States. For instance, wild brook trout populations provide fisheries in nearly 600 lakes and ponds and in thousands of miles of rivers and streams. Self-sustaining populations of landlocked salmon and lake trout, although less numerous than wild brook trout populations, are found in many waters, as well.

These populations support unique fisheries that provide highly desirable sport fishing opportunities that are an important element in Maineís economy. Based on the most recent USFWS survey, anglers expended $251,000,000 in Maine in 2001.

What weíve lost

Nevertheless, these wonderful resources, particularly our native brook trout populations, were once even more abundant and widespread. It is important to remember that Maine has over 5,000 lakes and ponds that exceed 10-acres in size. Very likely most of these waters once supported populations of brook trout. Just think of that, just a few hundred years ago, at the time of the European colonization of America, wild brook trout were abundant in places like Cobboseecontee Lake and the Belgrade Chain of Lakes as well as many other waters.

Whatís the problem

Actually, the problems confronting are native fish species is many faceted. First and foremost species such as brook trout are inherently sensitive to habitat changes such as declining water quality, siltation and so on. All of these problems are directly caused or greatly exacerbated by industrial and domestic pollution, agriculture practices, cutting practices, and watershed development, among others. Weíve made significant progress dealing with some of these issues but one problem seems to resist our best efforts at slowing the loss of these resources, let alone achieving significant recovery. This seemingly intractable problem is the ongoing and accelerating spread of invasive fish species through illegal stockings.

You want some proof ? Consider this. Chain pickerel, a Maine native once restricted to a few waters in extreme southern Maine is now found in all of our 16 counties. Furthermore, bass have been illegally stocked in over 150 waters since 1986. Black crappies, like bass a non-native, are now considered common in southern and central Maine. Northern pike have been reported in seven more waters in 2003 alone, including Sebago Lake. To varying degrees, all of these fish species pose significant problems for native fishes.

Still not convinced we have a problem ? Have a look at the table of just some of the illegal introductions that took place in 2003:

Name of Water, Township, County >>>Fish Species

Estes Lake, Sanford, York >>> Northern Pike
Sebago Lake, Casco, Cumberland >>>Northern Pike
Wat Tuh Pond, Phippsburg, Sagadahoc>Northern Pike
Pushaw Lake, Glenburn, Penobscot >>Northern Pike
Lovejoy Pond, Albion, Kennebec >>>>Northern Pike
Parker Pond, Mt. Vernon, Kennebec >>Northern Pike
Torsey Pond, Mt. Vernon, Kennebec >> Northern Pike
Thompson Lake, Poland, Oxford >>>>> White perch
Silver Lake, Lee, Penobscot >>>> Smallmouth Bass
Basin Pond, Fayette, Kennebec >> Largemouth Bass
Savade Pond, Windsor, Kennebec >Largemouth Bass
China Lake, China, Kennebec >>> Searun Alewives
East Pond, Smithfield, Somerset >>>> Walleye Pike
Great Moose Lake, Hartland, Somerset >> Green
Sunfish
Great Moose Lake, Hartland, Somerset >> Blue Gill
Sunfish
Saddle Pond, T7R9 WELS, Piscataquis >Smallmouth
Bass

What we are doing

The sad truth is that once illegal populations become established, there is little that you or this department can do to eliminate the illegally introduced population. Our best defense against illegal stocking is prevention. Over the past few years, IFW has worked with the legislature to increase the fines to $10,000 for those who are caught illegally stocking fish. It is also now a crime to illegally stock fish. Operation Game Thief has increased the reward money to $2,000 for information leading to a conviction. The Department has increased educational efforts to alert people of the irreversible damage that is done by these illegal stockings. Posters at access sites, education brochures, and advertisements in sporting publications and lawbooks are all ways that we are informing the public about the harm caused by illegal stocking. And by policy, this department does not manage species that have been recently illegally introduced into a waterway.

What you can do

It is, of course, illegal to stock fish in any Maine water, public or private, without a permit from the Commissioner of IFW. Nevertheless, the state's waters continue to be subjected to an onslaught of illegal stockings. We can dwell on pointing fingers and finding fault. There is much to go around. But in the end there is only one solution to the problem. Its time for all Maine anglers, whatever species they seek, to "step to the plate". Speak out on the dangers of illegal stockings at every opportunity. And don't hesitate to report (1-800-ALERT-US) any thing you hear about an illegal stocking. Your information might help preserve a native fish population and avert an ecological disaster!

-Dennis McNeish, Fisheries Management Supervisor, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife


Submitted by Mark Latti, DIFW

For More Outdoor Information, and Sporting Licenses 24 Hours A Day, 7 Days A Week, Please Visit www.mefishwildlife.com


NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.