April 26, 2010

Effort on to rid waters of walleye

By Betty Adams
Staff Writer

LONG POND -- Prized in Minnesota, despised in Maine.

click image to enlarge

Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Scott Davis holds a walleye caught in a trap net recently on Long Pond in Belgrade.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

What a fate for the walleye.

The feisty freshwater fish find themselves high on the food chain in the Midwest, where they're popular dinner entrees, but foundering in Belgrade Lakes, where state biologists kill them because the newcomers threaten native fish -- and their food supply -- in Great and Long ponds.

"We do not want these fish to be introduced into anyplace else in the state of Maine," fisheries biologist Scott Davis said. "They could be more successful reproducing in other areas."

Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife employees Davis and fellow fisheries biologist Jason Sieders pulled up a trap net earlier this week in a spawning area on Long Pond.

"A big white perch, a nice brook trout, a bass," Davis counted. "No walleyes, but plenty of alewives."

That was good news. So far this season, the biologists have captured 19 walleye, killing them and assessing their age, concluding that all were around 5 years old.

"We captured a smaller male," Davis said. "It's a little scary, because the size is a little smaller than we're used to catching. But just like people, there's bigger fish and smaller fish."

The biologists are asking fishermen to catch and kill any walleye they find in Great Pond, Long Pond or Messalonskee Lake; keep them, and call biologists at 547-5317.

"We want to look at them to determine the age," Davis said.

Walleye were first observed in Long Pond about 70 years ago -- and quickly removed.

"In the 1940s, people speared walleye on spawning grounds," Davis said. "They were able to destroy that population."

More recently, there was an illegal introduction in 1996, and apparently all walleye were trap-netted and removed.

"Five years ago, there was another illegal introduction of walleye," Davis said. "They compete with our native fish species that we have. They eat the native fish and they could alter the forage base. We don't want any more competition than we already have."

This year, the biologists set trap nets in waters in Belgrade village and at Salmon Pond outlet on Great Pond. The fisheries biologists usually check the traps three times a week for walleye.

"We're hoping that we're going to have none here soon," Davis said.

Davis described the walleye they've trapped: "They look like big yellow perch. These are generally 20 inches long or long and they lack the distinctive bars on the sides of yellow perch. And they have a lot of sharp teeth."

John Rice, an owner of Castle Island Camps on Long Pond, said people have landed walleye there over the past few years, and have notified biologists.

"The walleye weren't supposed to be here," he said. "You have a choice to find that great fish in a place where there's a plan for that fishery. If we wanted them in the lake, we would have them put in (legally) as a controlled population in the lake."

He said he objects to people who "create a fishery for themselves and impact hundreds of people."

He said Long Pond now harbors three non-native species -- pike, walleye and crappie -- all competing with indigenous species for food.

Pike caught there have reached more than 20 pounds.

"That has the capacity to eat a lot of fish," Rice said.

Betty Adams -- 621-5631

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