A new law makes possession of live fish a crime.

AUGUSTA (AP) – In Belgrade’s Long Pond, state biologists used to average 50 salmon in trapnet catches. But since pike were illegally introduced in the lake, the salmon catch dwindled to four in 2000 – and none in 2001.

“Illegal introductions of fish into Maine’s waters are devastating some of Maine’s native fisheries,” said Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin of the state Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department.

During this year’s session, the Legislature stepped in to prevent illegal fish stocking with a law that could result in $10,000 fines for violators. Martin hopes the law will stop illegal introductions before they occur.

The law, which took effect June 23, says any legal fish taken from inland waters shall be immediately released alive into the waters from which it was taken, or killed at once. The law doesn’t apply to baitfish or smelts. Violators face mandatory revocation of their fishing licenses.

The law also makes it a criminal violation to possess live fish for stocking or to introduce fish into inland waters without a permit. Penalties also include mandatory license suspensions and fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

Fisheries officials said illegal introductions are occurring at an alarming rate and threaten to devastate native fisheries within a watershed.

Pike have been discovered recently in Sebago Lake. Between 1986 and 2000, state officials documented 59 illegal bass introductions in waterways across Maine.

After pike were introduced in Long Pond, salmon that were netted in 2001 showed sharply increased signs of scarring from pike attacks compared to the early 1990s.

The fish and game department issues 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.

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