Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Invasive Species in NB

Before you get all excited and upset, I am not trying to simply bad mouth what may be your favorite fish!   Please read on before jumping to conclusions!
 
The recent CBC article regarding the subject of opening new waters to ice fishing brought up a number of interesting viewpoints both in direct comments to the story and Facebook threads referencing it.   One topic that was raised was on the presence and management of invasive species in New Brunswick.   

An invasive (fish) species is defined by Wikipedia as a fish that is not native and has negative effects on our economy, our environment, or our health. Not all introduced species are invasive.   In NB, perhaps the most notable invasive fish species from an anglers perspective are Smallmouth Bass, Pickerel, Muskie, and most recently Largemouth Bass.  While these fish are classified as invasive, they are also well established at this point, and it would be unfair to focus on the so called negative effects without also looking at the good they bring, and measuring either isn't all that straighfoward.


These fish are all very efficient predators and have no natural predators themselves once they get to be a certain size.   As such, they absolutely do have a very detremental effect on other fish populations like trout and salmon.  

Smallmouth bass


Smallmouth bass have been in NB longer than you or I, but they weren't always here.   According to research articles like this one,  Smallmouth came to NB by way of the St. Croix watershed in 1868.     Smallmouth can live for longer than 20 years and get up over 20 inches in length.     While present in most of the province since, it was only in Sept of 2008 when a Smallmouth was first caught in Miramichi Lake, the headpond of the Southwest Miramichi River System.    Since then expensive efforts have been made to eliminate Smallmouth from this lake in hopes of protecting the salmon that use the river system to spawn.

Smallmouth fishing is perhaps the most popular sportfish we have in our province, right up there with salmon and trout for those who are passionate about it.    There is a whole industry built around smallmouth fishing with very active sportfishing associations focused on smallmouth bass throughout North America.   Our own NB Sportfishing Association is an excellent group for those interested in tournament bass fishing with some of the best bass anglers one will ever meet.   Unfortunately for me, it doesn't cater to kayaks, but thats ok, I have no wish to be a competitive tournament angler, I enjoy fishing (and releasing!) them from kayak just for the thrill of it!

The fact that smallmouth are here to stay, and the fantastic economic and recreational benefits of the fish mean we should protect them in those waters they are present in, but work to keep them out of waters where they do not currently reside.   

Chain Pickerel


From what I can find online, Chain Pickerel appears to be a newer resident in New Brunswick.   According to Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture, there was little to no documentation about Chain Pickerel in Canada until 1973.    For a fish that hasn't been around all that long, it certianly has made itself at home here in NB!   

Present in many of our lakes and rivers, pickerel can grow to over 2 feet in length and are an absolute joy to fish.   While they are not great for eating in the summers, when caught in the winter, they can be quite tasty, though completely full of bones and very difficult to fillet if you don't know how.   There is no limit on pickerel when ice fishing and a 10 fish limit in the summer.   Personally I'd like to see this number reduced as overfishing has had very noticable effects on pickerel populations in lakes where the fish has taken over.

Muskie (Muskellunge)
Clark Rayner - 49.25" Muskie in 2014

Muskie has been around NB in the Saint John river system for close to 30 years, with the first one spotted trying to go through the dam in 1988 according to this paper.   These fish can grow to be over 50" long and can put up one of the best fights an angler could ever have.   I've yet to catch a Muskie myself, but really hope to do so in 2015!    The Saint John River Chapter of Muskies Canada is a great group to join if you are interested in learning to fish for this amazing fish!

Large Mouth Bass

Finally Large Mouth Bass is not widely known to be in NB, however the past year or two, a couple of them have been caught in the upper Saint John river.    As a newly discovered and potentially very impactful  predator, the NB Department of Natural Resources askes that any Largemouth bass caught in NB be kept and reported back to the department.   This is actually written in the Fish Book containing all rules and regulations for fishing in our province.

Management

Today, Smallmouth bass, Chain Pickerel and Muskie are all here to stay, there is no getting around that.   Hopefully the same will not be said about Largemouth bass in 20 years.   But for these three species there is the debate about how to manage them, and this is not a black and white issue.    While these fish are natural predators and will hurt the populations of fish like trout and salmon in waters where they are introduced, it is near impossible to get rid of them one present.  However all of these fish are still very enjoyable to catch, and bring in much needed money to our economy.

I believe that once present and settled in a body of water, the fish should be protected so that there is a good recreational fishing experience there for all who wish to enjoy it.    Retention limits should be set to prevent overfishing like has happened in areas like McManus Lake where once abundant and large pickerel are now very difficult to come by.    However, we have to try our best to prevent these fish from spreading further into waters where other fish speces are present.    That, I know, is not easy!







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