AUGUSTA, Maine -- New laws designed to prevent the illegal introduction of fish into Maine's waters should help the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife combat what has become an epidemic of illegal stockings of fish throughout the state. Governor John E. Baldacci recently signed L. D 1635, An Act Concerning Illegal Introduction of Fish in Maine Waters, into law this week.
"Illegal introduction of fish into Maine's waters are devastating some of Maine's native fisheries," said IFW Commissioner Roland D. Martin, "these new laws allow us to stop the illegal transportation or possession of live fish, and prevent an illegal introduction before it occurs."
Pike were recently discovered in Sebago Lake, and illegal introduction of fish into Maine's waters is occurring at alarming rate. These illegal introductions devastate native fisheries within a watershed. For instance, In Long Pond in Belgrade where pike were illegally introduced, annual trapnet catches of salmon by IFW biologists used to average over 50 salmon, but the catch plummeted to just four in 2000 and none in 2001. In 2001, the proportion of netted salmon showing scarring from pike attacks increased dramatically from the single digits in the early 1990's to 37% in 1999 to 75% (3 out of the 4) in 2000. Bass are also being moved illegally within Maine. From 1986 to 2000, there were 59 documented illegal bass introductions statewide.
The emergency legislation states that any legal fish, except baitfish and smelts, taken from inland waters shall be immediately released alive into the waters from which it was taken, or shall be killed at once. Failure to do so is now a class E criminal violation, and violators face a mandatory revocation of their fishing license.
This emergency legislation also makes it a criminal violation to possess live fish for stocking, breeding and advertising purposes without a permit, as well as for someone to introduce fish into inland waters without a permit. These penalties also include a mandatory license suspension and a fine of not less than $1,000, and not more than $10,000. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife does issue permits for stocking private ponds as well as permits for possession of live fish for breeding and advertising purposes, and will continue to do so under the new laws.
"These laws are an important tool for us in combating the epidemic of illegal stockings," said Colonel Tim Peabody of the Maine Warden Service.
The bill was passed by the 121st legislature as emergency legislation, it was signed by the governor on June 23, 2003, and it is now currently in effect.
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