Monday, December 9, 2013
By Deirdre Fleming firstname.lastname@example.org
In the past 10 years, only seven people have been charged with and four convicted of illegally stocking fish into Maine's inland waters without a permit.
Saint Joseph’s College student Bob Murtha catches a brook trout May 8 in the Presumpscot River. One fisheries biologist says that trout fishing is slow and requires skill, so offenders stock bass for convenience and instant gratification.
John Patriquin/2012 Press Herald file
Those cases resulted in one $100 fine and three $1,000 fines. But there has never been a high-profile case resulting in the maximum $10,000 fine for the Class E crime, said Maine Game Warden Lt. Adam Gormely.
Yet in the last six years alone, 64 Maine bodies of water have been illegally stocked with fish, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which began keeping track in 2006.
Part of the reason so many bodies of water have been illegally stocked and so few offenders have been caught is because game wardens must catch someone in the act, and that's difficult to do.
"I know who put the bass into Moosehead Lake in the '80s, and I know who put yellow perch in. I know who they are, and I can't prove it. To catch these people is so damn hard," said Gormely.
Information about the crime brings a $2,000 reward from the state. Yet even though wardens get tips and biologists hear fishermen bragging about moving fish to their favorite pond, nobody has been held up as an example, Gormely said.
One case brought a $100 fine to Brian Murphy of Groton, Conn., in 2007; and in the three other separate cases, fines of $1,000 were handed out to Richard Merrill of Sullivan in 2006, to Nicholas Palmer of Otisfield in 2006, and to Timothy Tyler of Rumford in 2010.
Some say, given so few convictions, there is no useful deterrent to stop the spread of non-native fish.
"They get proud of it, and they start bragging. You still have to prove they did it. Otherwise, it's all hearsay. Even if they say they've done it, it's not enough proof," said regional fisheries biologist Greg Burr in the Downeast office.
Everywhere in Maine the problem of illegal stocking exists.
Burr said he knows fishermen who have illegally stocked fish in Downeast waters. He said their boasts are posted on Facebook, and stories of building their own fishery fill corner stores.
And in this part of Maine where bass fishing has exploded, Burr hears of bass being put in new waters all the time, virtually every week, he said. He believes because fishermen can get away with the crime, it will continue.
"In a number of instances, a lot of it comes down to that is how society is now, it's for convenience, where people want instant gratification and satisfaction," Burr said. "Fishing for trout is slower, so they don't get what they want. They don't need specialized skill to catch bass. They give a good fight. They are good eating. So it fills the bill for a lot of people."
Gormely said one good case that smacked a fisherman with a $10,000 fine could help discourage others. But the Maine Warden Service never has been able to pull that off. Part of the problem is the law gets hazy and provides some leeway for the offending fisherman, Gormely said.
It is also illegal for fishermen to dump bait, but they do. And if they dump a bait fish from one water body into another water body that already has that bait fish, the act is not necessarily considered "illegal stocking," Gormely said.
"For a warden there is some requirement to make sure that there is a blend of intent and an impact," he said. "If a guy is out ice fishing and he dumps four smelts in Moosehead, where there is already a population of smelts, he's probably not going to get a $10,000 fine."
And while it is a crime to illegally transfer live fish, Gormely said catching a fisherman in the act is not enough evidence to draw the charge of illegal stocking, even if that was the intention. A warden needs a body of evidence that the fisherman intended to stock a pond.
"Someone just admitting it or bragging (is not enough). And there doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent," Gormely said.
As far as Maine's fisheries biologists can tell, those fishermen moving fish see no incentive to stop.
"It's more than a crime; it's a growing mentality," Burr said. "There is no talking to them. These types of individuals are just out for themselves."
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: