Well, that depends on the fish. If the fish doesn’t previously exist in the lake this could be a bigger concern once Senate Bill 571 passes, but don't fret.
Luckily, nearly all fishermen and fisherwomen in Oregon know you can’t use live baitfish in Oregon’s waterways. Big No-No. But if you fish, you know that. So what’s the big deal?
The Big Deal is Oregon evaporated over $5 million taxpayer dollars removing an inappropriate baitfish, the tui chub, “released” in Diamond Lake. Other fish declined and the water became murky as the little fish grew in numbers and changed the microscopic-balance of the lake, which ultimately produced algae-blooms (the same “blooms” that spur infamous fish kills by removing all oxygen from the lake and suffocating its' inhabitants).
Local businesses reported a decrease in overall business by upwards of 40% once the tui chub took hold—since the fish dramatically altered the local ecology and thus the desirability of fishing and recreating there. Diamond Lake presented an ecosystem and a local economy on the brink of failure. This necessitated the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) take dramatic measures to restore Oregon’s “showcase trout fishery” and poison Diamond Lake in order to save it.
Educating the public is key to prevention and, fortunately, statistics show the casual fishing newbie is not who creates imminent ecological disaster—it’s the intentional perpetrator who arrives with climate-controlled tanks distributing their favorite baitfish as a personal biology experiment. And Senate Bill 571 recognizes this: the bill is sensitive to the inadvertent blunders of the casual recreator and simultaneously creates an appropriate disincentive for the most egregious fish-releases.
SB 571 makes introduction of non-native invasive fish a Class C felony if done intentionally or knowingly, and a Class A misdemeanor if done recklessly or with criminal negligence. It would pull the angling licenses of the offender for five years, and would allow the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to sue guilty parties for restitution costs. This bill means business.
But have no fear, even by creating tough penalties and sending a clear message about the seriousness of invasive species, SB 571 targets legitimate offenders and provides a necessary safety-net for everyday casual recreators who will occasionally make a mistake.
SB 571 passed out of House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Communities this morning with a unanimous vote. The bill is heading to the house floor and will (hopefully) be yet another exciting conclusion to one of the Oregon Conservation Networks' Priorities for a Healthy Oregon.