Northern pike move into Sebago

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Northern pike have invaded Sebago Lake and are threatening the waterway’s famed landlocked salmon fishery.

“Catch and kill as many pike as you can,” Mark Latti said on Monday night. Latti is a spokesman for the state’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The nonnative pike, toothy and voracious, initially surfaced at Sebago about three years ago, Latti said. Then, it wasn’t thought that the pike had taken hold, however. Biologists conducting electrofishing in Sebago’s shallows weren’t finding pike, and it was thought that the few that had been caught were illegal transplants.

Until April, it had been more than a year since a northern pike was hauled from Sebago’s depths. But then, Latti noted, three were caught. Worse, one of the three was only 17 inches long. That means that the fish is probably less than three years old, and implies, Latti said, that the pike are reproducing.

Jim Pellerin, assistant regional biologist for the Sebago region, said April’s catches “suggests pike may have spawned in the lake and will likely establish a population.”

That in turn, he said, “will alter the ecological balance of the lake forever and seriously jeopardize the potential recovery of the landlocked salmon fishery.”

Pellerin, in his monthly report, called the illegal stocking of pike into Sebago’s watershed “a senseless and selfish act by one or two people that will negatively change the history of the lake’s fisheries for all present and future anglers. These acts of illegal introductions continue at an alarmingly maniacal pace, and even remote waters in northern Maine are no longer exempt.”

Northern pike began showing up in Maine roughly two decades ago. They’ve become the principal game fish in some of the Belgrade Lakes, in Sabattus Pond and elsewhere. Earlier this spring, pike were found in a small pond in Chesterville that stretches into the Sandy River watershed. A biologist said the fish will likely migrate from there into the Kennebec River.

Latti said the same will probably happen in Sebago.

“It’s such a vast watershed,” Latti said. Eradicating the species if they are reproducing “is pretty much impossible.”

And Pellerin says a growing pike population could reshape Maine’s fishing waters forever.

“If this trend continues,” he said, “Maine’s cold-water fisheries will be very different 20 to 30 years from now, and based on what we have witnessed in southern and central Maine, far worse off than before these introductions occurred.

Ironically, pike are surfacing in Sebago at a time when it appears salmon are making a strong comeback in the lake.

Pellerin said the Sebago smelt run was well under way during the last week of April, and anglers were reporting good fishing. The size quality of fish is up with anglers reporting salmon in the 3- to 5-pound range and lake trout as big as 37½-inches long and weighing about 17½ pounds.

“Increased growth of salmon and lake trout, as well as hydroacoustics data, indicates that Sebago’s smelt population is finally showing some substantial improvement,” Pellerin noted in his report.

He said the state will respond to the smelts’ comeback by increasing the stocking rate of salmon as appropriate. This year the lake is scheduled to receive twice as many salmon.

Smelt are the primary feedstock for landlocked salmon.

Sebago, said Latti, was one of the original four Maine lakes to hold a landlocked salmon population.

He asks that anglers keep what pike they catch in Sebago and report the catch to IF&W biologists.

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