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Illegal Koi Fish Spotted In Pickerel Pond

September 20, 2008

Koi Fish Found in Maine WatersAUGUSTA – Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists have retrieved a non-native koi/carp from Pickerel Pond in Limerick and have received reports that there may be at least one other in this particular body of water.

Koi, which is the Japanese term for carp, is an invasive species that can survive and reproduce in Maine’s waters and cause devastating harm to the state’s native fish species, aquatic plant life, and the quality of water.

Based on public reports, it is believed the koi was introduced into Pickerel Pond earlier this summer, but it is not known how it got there. IF&W was alerted to the koi by Limerick Town Selectman Dean Lepage and resident Ilene Dashner, and these reports prompted a quick response from fisheries biologists who hope their efforts will reduce the risk of the koi taking over the pond.

“We’re very concerned about the illegal introduction of this non-native, destructive species into one of Maine’s lakes and have begun an all-out assault to minimize any harm it may cause,” said Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin. “Fishing has a nearly $300 million a year economic impact in Maine. Illegal fish introductions not only can ruin native fisheries, but can impact businesses such as stores, camps and restaurants.”

The three-pound koi was captured on Sept. 10 when IF&W fisheries biologists Francis Brautigam and Jim Pellerin deployed the Department’s 18-foot electrofishing boat. Electrofishing is a process that generates an electric current to temporarily stun nearby fish, allowing them to be netted for identification. This particular koi/carp was orange with a black spot on its head and had white-fringed fins. Reports to the biologists suggest there may be a second koi, which is predominantly white in color, and possibly others.

To eradicate or control the infestation in Pickerel Pond, the Department will:
* Contact shorefront property owners, town officials and those who manage water access to Pickerel Pond and request their assistance in the timely reporting of any additional koi that may be present. Where possible, we’ll request public assistance in catching and removing koi;
* Install a screen at the pond outlet to prevent migration from Pickerel Pond into Little Ossipee River subdrainage, including downstream Lake Arrowhead;
* Conduct additional koi removal efforts, particularly in response to timely reported sightings of koi.

A koi can grow to greater than 50 pounds. A small koi similar to the one found in Pickerel Pond may produce in excess of 36,000 eggs. In contrast, a similar-sized native brook trout may produce only 1,200 eggs.

Koi and other nonnative fish transported into Maine also may carry parasites and diseases not currently found in Maine which may be harmful to native fisheries.

Koi or carp feed on both aquatic plants and animals. The species commonly suck up bottom sediments and muck and then spit out the material to select desirable food items, including aquatic insects and mollusks.

“This disruptive feeding behavior is detrimental to native plant and fish populations in part because this feeding behavior increases the turbidity of the water and reduces light penetration,” according to Brautigam. “They uproot and destroy native submerged aquatic plants important as food, cover and spawning habitat for native fish and other aquatic organisms.”

Their behavior also reduces local wildlife populations, including waterfowl, by degrading marsh habitat important for wildlife production.

Koi may be easily confused with the closely related goldfish, although koi may grow to a much larger size. This size advantage allows koi to create even more significant ecological impacts. The presence of small “barbels” or whiskers along the margin of the mouth is found on koi and is used to distinguish koi from goldfish.

It has been illegal to possess koi in Maine for more than 25 years. Maine law states that a person may not introduce, import or transport fish into the state without a permit, nor may someone have in their possession fish that were imported or transported without a permit. Possession is a Class E crime with fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

“Invasive fish not only threaten our native fisheries, they have already changed things forever in places like the Rapid River, Moosehead Lake, Long Pond, and more recently the Penobscot River and Sebago Lake,” according to Brautigam. “Once koi or other invasive fish establish a reproducing population there is little that can be done to eradicate or control the infestation.”

As an example, the proliferation of pike, also an exotic species, is threatening Atlantic salmon, an endangered species, in the Penobscot River, and will ultimately have a negative impact on the native Eastern brook trout and landlocked salmon in this drainage.

Who introduced the koi to Pickerel Pond and why is not known. Any information regarding the illegal introduction should be directed to Operation Game Thief at 1-800-253-7887 or #GW or *GW from a cell phone.

Koi Fish Found in Maine Waters

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