Sunday February 3, 2013

LENOX

State Senator Benjamin B. Downing announced that his legislation, S. 1904, (An Act Protecting Lakes and Ponds from aquatic nuisances), was recently signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick.

Downing championed this proposal after the discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake in 2009. The new law seeks to protect the Commonwealth's uncontaminated lakes and ponds by preventing the spread of zebra mussels and other aquatic nuisances.

"Getting this new law on the books before the 2013 boating and fishing season was important to me," said Downing in a news release. "A few summers ago, the discovery of zebra mussels in Laurel Lake caused widespread panic because a plan to deal with their detection was not readily available. This Act assists the environmental agencies as they implement a zebra mussel action plan. I hope it also reminds lake users of our collective responsibility to ensure human actions do not threaten the environmental health of our cherished lakes, rivers and ponds."

The Act is based on the recommendations of the state's Zebra Mussel Task Force, tasked by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs in 2009 to author a zebra mussel action plan. Invasive species, like zebra mussels, pose a significant threat to lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs statewide, creating significant adverse impacts on recreation, ecology, fisheries, aesthetics and property values.


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The Task Force determined that, under existing law, state environmental agencies do not possess the necessary enforcement authority to manage the immediate and long-term effect of zebra mussels, or the means to manage aquatic nuisances that are likely to infest Massachusetts' natural resources in the future.

Downing's legislation authorizes the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to establish an aquatic nuisance control program to study and promote improved methods of suppressing, controlling or reducing the risk of the spread of aquatic nuisances. This program will collaborate with other state and federal agencies engaged in the study or control of aquatic nuisances. (I don't think the program has been developed yet.)

In the press release, Downing said the bill makes clear that lake and pond users cannot knowingly or willfully launch a vessel that has been in contaminated waters without first decontaminating it in accordance with state environmental regulations. Zebra mussels were likely introduced to Laurel Lake by a boat previously launched into the contaminated waters of neighboring states.

The bill also strengthens enforcement measures by allowing the DCR to impose civil penalties for violations of any rules, regulations, orders, or quarantines issued by the Commissioner. The Massachusetts Environmental Police are authorized to proceed against the certificate of number of a vessel involved in a violation. Further, progressive fines for violations are established. This bill will take place around April 1.

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Next weekend, the New England Fishing and Outdoor Expo will be held at the DCU Center in Worcester. The show hours are Friday from 12:30-9 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $5 for children aged 5 through 11, and free for children younger than 5.

It is advertised as being bigger and better than before. After logging onto newenglandfishingexpo.com to check it out, I don't think they are kidding. There will be far too many attractions, guest speakers, seminars, sponsors, and booths there for me to mention in this column.

At that Expo, MassWildlife will award trophies to the adult and youth anglers who last year caught the largest fish in 22 species categories. They will also recognize the angler who caught the greatest variety of fish species in the Program. As of January 29 they have not officially announced the winners.

In 2012 only one "gold pin" fish was caught out of Berkshire waters and that was a tiger muskie which weighed 18 pounds, 3 ounces, and it came out of Pontoosuc Lake in Pittsfield. Lou Baker of Lanesborough was the lucky fisherman. He will be recognized at the above Fishing and Outdoor Expo freshwater fishing awards at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The saltwater fishing awards will be presented at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

According to Andrew Madden, DFW Western District manager, it is likely that the fish was 7 or 8 years old. He said the last time tiger muskies were stocked in Massachusetts was in 2006, and some were put into Pontoosuc Lake, where they had the most success with them locally.

They are hybrid fish (cross between Northern Pike and Muskellunge) and can't breed. Because of what's called ‘hybrid vigor' they grow faster than pike or muskies, but don't live as long. Regular muskies can sometimes live 30 years, but tigers would be very lucky to live half that.

Why did they stop stocking them? Madden stated that the tiger muskie program was based on free surplus fish from other states. Because our state does not grow them, they could only stock when they became available. Now, fewer neighboring states are growing the fish and there is more concern about fish disease being transported across states. So basically the supply is no longer available.

Could the above mentioned fish be the last one to be caught in our state? Maybe not. I did a little research and found that the typical maximum life span is 8 to 10 years. The state record was caught by the late James Lambert out of Pontoosuc Lake in 2001 and it weighed 27 pounds. I wonder how old that fish was. Who knows? Maybe there are a few others swimming around in our local waters.

To reach Gene Chague:
Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com,
or (413) 637-1818.