Everything around Baxter State Park is about keeping it wild. Certainly, it is the go-to outdoor playground for hikers, campers and fishermen, as well as hunters, artists and wildlife watchers.

But even this park that defers to the wild critters is stocked in a few places with hatchery fish. However, a state biologist is looking to keep the park that much more wild, to maintain its native appeal.

Fisheries biologist Gordon “Nels” Kramer, the regional biologist in Enfield, wants to create a hatchery strain from the wild brook trout in Sourdnahunk Lake.

“A lot of wilderness parks don’t allow stocking whatsoever., Kramer said. “We’ve always recognized there is a lot of fishing that goes on in the park and there are places that don’t support wild populations. As far as I’m concerned, having a strain that is as close to the native strain of fish would be important.”

The 210,000-acre park is home to at least 45 ponds and lakes — those are the number of surveyed waters where viable fisheries have been found. Of those, just eight are stocked by state biologists, Kramer said.

The hope is that if Sourdnahunk Lake is found to produce a healthy strain of wild brook trout, these fish can be taken, raised in a hatchery as a brood stock, and used in the park in those eight waters.

Kramer needs three years of records showing good fish health before the Sourdnahunk trout eggs can go to the hatchery. Last year his staff netted 30 fish in Sourdnahunk and did a fish sample that proved “spotlessly clean.”

“We plan to do it two more years. The third year we’ll take eggs and if those 30 fish come back clean, then those eggs will be integrated into the hatchery system,” Kramer said.

The Sourdnahunk strain would be used only in the park, Kramer said.

However, Todd Langevin, the state superintendent of hatcheries, said it would be nice to have a clean wild brook trout strain in IFW’s back pocket, so to speak, should something go wrong with the hatchery system’s brook trout strains.

As it is now, the state uses three hatchery strains: one that was taken from the Kennebago in the 1990s, one taken from Pennsylvania years before that, and a combination of the two. Those strains work well in various situations, Langevin said.

However, should something go wrong with one of those strains, the state has no “wild supply” to go to. The famous trout water they were taken from in Rangeley has had diseased fish since wild brook trout were taken from it for the hatchery back in the 1990s, Langevin said.

“As far as the Kennebago (strain), the only problem there is we can’t go back to the Kennebago and acquire an infusion of new (wild) genetics because there is disease identified in the fish there. We wouldn’t want to take a diseased fish into one of the hatcheries,” Langevin said.

Currently, there are no wild fish added to the brood stock, he said. And that’s intentional.

“Certainly when you bring in wild fish they act more wild. But they’re difficult to raise and there are variations in size and growth rate,” he said. “Our Kennebago strain is regarded as our wild strain. We put them in the type of water where they are expected to provide a little bit more of a wild experience, and to grow to a larger size in remote areas. They behave differently in the wild compared to the main hatchery strain.”

Genetically, he said, the three hatchery strains are excellent, and at the moment have no problems. But there is no going back to the Kennebago.

This is one reason Kramer is intrigued with his investigation of a possible Sourdnahunk strain. But for now those brook trout, if disease-free, would be raised in a hatchery “isolation room” and used only to stock the ponds in Baxter State Park.

Kramer is excited.

“My hope is that because the Kennebago strain is a dead end, and we are doing this work up front, if the fish prove healthy there may be an opportunity to use them in the future, Kramer said. “But if nothing else happens, it will be a strain for Baxter State Park. And it’s important to maintain the biological integrity there.” 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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