New plan ends bitter battle over bait and brook trout

NOTE: Please answer my brook trout one-question survey, in the Sportsman’s Say Survey, on my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com, before February 11 so I can present the results to the legislature’s IFW Committee. Make your voice heard!

 

Maine’s Fish and Wildlife Department amazed me today when they brought together angling interests who have been battling for years over brook trout and bait issues and unified them on a new plan to protect wild brook trout.

Dad with brookies from Sourdahunk Lake

Dad with brookies from Sourdahunk Lake

The legislature directed DIF&W to prepare a comprehensive policy and management plan for wild brook trout waters, called the “B List”, that have not been stocked since 1988. Since 1995 when the legislature enacted a law recognizing and protecting native brook trout in waters that have never been stocked, various angling groups and activists have been fighting over attempts to extend the recognition and protective measures to the new list of waters.

This has been a bitter and divisive battle. Today, that battle came to a very positive ending.

Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, who sponsored at the request of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine the bill that recognized and protected native brook trout when he was in the State Senate, opened today’s meeting with these words: ““We’ve come up with an exceptional piece given the challenge that was given to us.”

That turned out to be an understatement. Today’s meeting brought together two DIF&W task forces, one on baitfish, the other on brook trout. Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine and Fisheries Biologist Dana Degraaf presented the details of the plan that will go to the legislature’s IFW Committee on February 11. Both emphasized that they were presenting a draft plan, and changes could be made before the 11th. No copies of the plan were distributed.

Given the unanimous blessing that members of these two committees gave to the plan today, I don’t expect much in the way of changes. It’s a winner.

“It’s a very practical plan and good compromise. I congratulate you on coming up with this,” said Ted Koffman of Maine Audubon.

On the other side of the battle, David Allen, a retired game warden who now owns Macannamac Camps with his wife Josie, reported, “We really have a lot of common ground here.”

Gary Corson

Gary Corson

“This is pretty much what I suggested to SAM in 2005,” said Gary Corson, a longtime champion of brook trout as a member of SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee. “I want to say I appreciate what the department has done here,” said Corson.

“And we appreciate what you have done Gary,” said Matt Libby of Libby’s Camps, drawing lots of laughs when he noted that Gary, “had made a bunch of enemies” with his work.

Others around the table joined in the praise for the plan and each other. There were absolutely no negative comments. Astonishing!

Erskine praised her agency’s fisheries staff, noting, “We have to give our biological staff credit. They’ve been working toward this for their entire careers.”

I am amazed that these guys sitting in front of me, at each other’s throats for years, were now laughing and smiling together. This is a major achievement for DIF&W, and a good reflection on the people who have been working on this for so long including SAM’s FIC, bait dealers, guides, sporting camp owners, DIF&W fisheries staff and leaders, and others.

Jim Connolly, DIF&W’s Director of the Wildlife and the Fisheries Divisions, sited all the good work currently being done for brook trout, from better installation of culverts to remote trout pond inventories, calling this, “a robust effort with a lot of participation and hopefully a lot of good fishing in the future.”

Mike Brown, DIF&W’s Fisheries Division Director, who sat quietly beside me during the presentation, also deserves credit. He came to the agency from the Department of Marine Resources and brought new energy and insight into both the process and the plan.

I promised not to give away the details of the plan until the legislature gets a chance to hear and respond to it. When that happens on February 11, I’ll let you know those details, with the expectation that, like everyone around the table today, you will be very pleased.

 

 

 

 

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.