Maine is ignoring the problem of invasive fish while focusing on invasive plants. That makes me sad.

I appreciate and admire the great work being done by lake and other associations to prevent invasive plants from getting into our lakes, ponds, and streams, and to get them out when they do. Right here in our area the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and Maine Lakes Resource Center do a wonderful job. At the state level, the Maine Lake Science Center is a leader in the effort to protect our lakes.

Linda and I belong to the Minnehonk Lake Association and the 30 Mile River Watershed Association, and all over Maine similar groups are working hard to protect and improve our lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams.

But you have to question why, when invasive plants are currently only in 26 lakes and 14 rivers and streams in southern Maine, we don’t make an equal effort to deal with the terrible spread of invasive fish species, now found all over the state. Yes, they’re everywhere, and have wreaked havoc on Maine’s native fish, especially brook trout. And none of the groups mentioned above, nor any of our state agencies, are working on this critical problem.

On March 9 in this newspaper, Christie Souza of the McGrath Pond–Salmon Lake Association provided an excellent column on threats to our lakes. “Our beautiful lakes have been hurt by a thousand cuts. Big cuts — clearing, road runoff, and farming — and little cuts — sweeping litter and spills into storm drains, launching boats from the yard,” she wrote, concerned mostly about erosion. She let us know the many ways we can prevent these problems.

But she never mentioned invasive fish, which have decimated the Belgrade chain of lakes, including hers. I used to catch fantastic Landlocked salmon in Long Pond, which is now filled with nine invasive fish species. And the salmon are gone. So sad.

The Lake Science Center hosts a Milfoil Summit every year. But there is no Invasive Fish Summit.

This recent quote from Doug Denico, director of Maine’s Forestry Bureau, got my attention: “The Maine Forest Service, Public Lands and the Natural Areas Program have joined with the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources to locate and eradicate invasive plant and animal species.”

Doug told me they are focusing on invasive plants that “would prohibit the natural regeneration of our forests.” They have a mapping and control program on public lands, and will add parks to that program soon. They even offer private landowners mapping and advice. They are also focused on animals — mostly for insects like the emerald ash borer.

We can only wish that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had done or is doing something to reduce the spread of invasive fish and to try to get them out of waters where they’ve been introduced. Of course, the state has made many stocking mistakes over the years, beginning way back in the 1800s. And we’ve had very little respect — and concern for — our native species.

One of the worst mistakes was stocking hatchery brook trout in Lower Richardson Lake that allowed them to access the Rapid River in the Rangeley Region. While the agency originally denied they’d done it, and then said it was a mistake that would not be repeated, they are still stocking hatchery trout in that lake, giving them access to the Rapid.

This is truly unforgiveable. The Rapid was once our best native brook trout water, in my estimation and experience. Now it has bass that entered the river from the New Hampshire end, and hatchery brook trout that got into the river from our end.

At a 2012 conference on invasive fish, Merry Gallagher, a state fisheries researcher, said, “The wild trout waters are a huge concern. There is no doubt about it. When bass show up, brook trout don’t stick around for any length of time.” Merry got that right.

At that same conference, Nels Kramer, a state fisheries biologist, said, “We will become Connecticut. We will end up with a homogeneous landscape, so there will be all species everywhere. It’s one of the things that makes Maine unique, to have the only species in a pond be brook trout. Unfortunately, every week there are reports of new introductions.”

Michigan recently announced 17 grants totaling $3.5 million for its invasive species grants program, which has four objectives, including monitoring their state for invasives and “responding to and conducting eradication efforts for new findings and range expansions.”

I took special interest in their initiative to protect inland fisheries with a range of tactics, including chemical treatments and the release of sterile male sea lampreys that eat the invasive fish.

Since 2007 about $5 million has been spent in Maine on removal of invasive plants. And nothing to combat invasive fish. As the Legislature debates increased funding for fighting invasive plants — which I support — I can only hope someone will ask: Why are we doing nothing about invasive fish?

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.