The web-footed bucket stockers

By V. Paul Reynolds

In this column, about seven years ago, I wrote this about “bucket stocking,” the illegal introduction of non-indigenous fish species in a body of water:

“By now it is no secret — especially among sportsmen and anglers — that there is a monster loose upon the lands and waters of Maine: the bucket stocker. Like Bigfoot, the bucket stocker is rarely seen but is out there nonetheless. We know this because more and more non-indigenous fish species (invasives) are being caught in our once-pure cold water sport fisheries. Someone is putting them there, and it is not the Creator.

Probably the bucket stocker comes in a variety of sizes and outlooks. What seizes him to do what he does? Why would any person willfully introduce crappies or bass into a classic Maine trout or salmon fishery? Is it a revenge crime, a payback to the Fish and Wildlife Department for some wrong, real or imagined? Does the bucket stocker, in a moment of deluded thinking, fancy himself as some kind of fishing activist hell bent on transforming Maine into his own fantasy concept of a diverse fishery?

In truth, these bucket stockers are a disaster for Maine’s nationally known and priceless cold water sport fishery. Because of Maine’s vast network of drainages and interconnected water courses, a fish that is an invasive, which may be illegally introduced, can wind up about anywhere.

This is happening now in spades. Bass are being found in once-pure trout waters more and more. According to fisheries experts, these bass will multiply and in time destroy a trout water.”

Since then the invasive fish problem has just gotten worse. Case in point: Bass have purportedly been discovered in Maine’s fabled and premier trout water, the Rapid River! As you might imagine bucket stockers are as elusive and ghost-like as the controversial mountain lion in Maine. They just don’t get caught or convicted.

A recent caller on my Sunday night radio program, Maine Outdoors, reported that bait fish, which he did not stock, showed up in his new farm pond. His theory is that waterfowl, herons and the like are transporting fish eggs on their feet from other bodies of water! Interesting theory, and one that I had never heard from either fisheries biologists or waterfowl experts. On its website, IF&W attributes bucket stocking strictly to bipeds like you and me with no mention of invasive species introduction by web-footed critters.

Could it happen?

Danielle D’Auria, IF&W’s waterbird specialist, when asked the question offered this: “I do think it’s possible for herons and other aquatic birds to carry fish eggs to new waters. There’s also potential for carrying unwanted vegetation which could cause issues if it’s nonnative and invasive. I haven’t seen any quantification of this, but it makes sense they’d be capable of doing so.” 

Of course, one anecdote about a farm pond does not a scientific theory make. But perhaps a wildlife major at the University of Maine could conduct a  thesis on this subject and do a little “quantification.” After all, in all of the  advisories and warnings, humans alone are being targeted as the sole culprits of all manner of invasive species introduction, from fish to aquatic plants.

Maybe it’s time to focus the microscope on the waterbirds, the web-footed bucket stockers who just may be part of the problem.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com, Outdoor Books.

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