Rubber worms didn’t catch much at the Maine legislature.


salmon stuffed with rubber worm. Henry Whitemore photoIn the last column, I told you about the problems rubber worms are causing Maine’s fish, in a tale told by Henry Whittemore. To the left is a photo of the fish Henry wrote about, filled with a rubber worm. Today, we’ll take a look back, to the 2012 legislative session, when a bill to ban rubber worms caused an uproar. Here’s the column I wrote about the public hearing.

Legislative Hearing

Room 206 was standing-room-only this afternoon, filled with a crowd of anglers opposed to LD 42, An Act to Prohibit the Use of Rubber Lures for Fishing.

Apparently word spread nationwide about this bill. Standing in the Capitol Rotunda between the House and Senate this morning, Rep. Steve Wood, an IFW Committee member, told me he’d received 758 emailed messages on the bill, only one of which was in favor – and only 122 of which came from Maine residents. Steve said it was the most messages he’d ever received on any legislative issue.

Standing there talking with me, Steve received three more messages, from Texas, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.  The House chair of the IFW Committee, Mike Shaw, in the short walk from the House chamber to where I was standing in the Rotunda, received three messages from Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Ontario. Almost all of the messages received by Steve and Mike were exactly the same.

Sitting on the window ledge of the committee room, because there were no vacant seats by the time I arrived, and beginning to type this column, Steve came over and said he was now up to 840 messages. They’re pouring it on!

LD 42 and 43

Rep. Paul Davis stirred up quite a response with his bills to ban the use of rubber and nondegradable lures. He said he put the bills in at the request of Lance Wheaton, and understanding that they would be controversial, he did not seek cosponsors.

“I haven’t gotten so much attention since my whoopie pie bill,” exclaimed Paul, to the audience’s delight. While saying he didn’t know a lot about this, he handed out some of the information he’d gathered on the issue, and found support for the proposal from anglers who have seen the damage these lures can do.

Fishing with friends not long ago, he learned of fish that they had seen with rubber worms in their stomachs. Paul also heard a suggestion that a one-year phase in of the restriction might be a good start. He said former warden John Whalen supported the bill, and announced a request from the American Sport Fishing Association that DIF&W do a study of the issue.

“I’ve concluded that this is a good topic for the committee to discuss,” said Paul, and asked the committee’s analyst to do some research before the work session on these bills, including asking LL Bean if they still sell rubber and nondegradeable lures, and how much the department spends to raise a fish for stocking in Maine. Paul also noted that two of the three fish he saw caught last weekend had old hooks in their mouths.

Senator David Burns, another IFW Committee member, testified in favor of the bill, distributing testimony from Rick Jordan, a retired DIF&W fisheries biologist.

Lance Wheaton spoke for the bill, recognizing “this is a tough issue” and reporting that he didn’t support the bill as written. Turns out he thinks it doesn’t go far enough. And then he broke out what he called “some gruesome pictures” of fish caught with rubber lures inside or hanging out of their bodies. One fish had 17 pieces of rubber!

He also handed out biodegradable lures and bait that he’d made himself. “I’d like to see manufacturers making these,” he said. And then he took on hooks, calling for changes that would allow them to be digested. I have to say, I am proud of Lance, who has not always seen eye to eye with me, for raising this critical issue and bringing it to the legislature for debate.

Senator Burns said many of the messages he’d received were that this ban would cost Maine hundreds of thousands of dollars and asked Lance if he agrees. “Well, they said the sky was going to fall too and it didn’t,” responded Lance, getting a good laugh from the committee and audience.

Jeff Lewis, a member of the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council, also testified for the bill, focusing on what he’s seen as a diver for law enforcement agencies. “It’s amazing how many of these lures you see on the bottom.”

As the committee turned to opponents, the Maine Bass Nation was well represented by its Vice President Mark Desjardin and some members. In fact, they comprised nearly the entire contingent of opponents. Desjardin spoke for more than 30 minutes, and the committee peppered him with questions.

As the steady stream of opponents trudged to the podium, at the two hour mark of these hearings, in a stifling hot room, my interest in continuing to write a blow-by-blow account of today’s proceeding waned. So here’s a summary of the testimony against the bills.

Rubber baits do not kill fish. In fact, no rubber worms are made today. Lures are made with plastic and other components. These are the most popular lures used for fishing for all species. They are used in youth fishing events including DIF&W’s Hooked-on-Fishing events. Live bait is more harmful to fish. There is no science that indicates this is a problem. The negative financial impact would be considerable on both anglers and the state’s $600 million angling economy.

Maine Bass Nation reported it was responsible for all the emailed messages received by committee members, because its leaders had asked national bass groups for help.

Rep. Stanley Short, a member of the committee, told Desjardin that he was offended by the flood of emailed messages, and the group’s effort “cost you a vote on this bill.” Short said he’d been badgered, including some “who told me my political career is over and I’ve only been here for about a week.”

Senator David Burns asked Desjardin some sharp questions, urging him to read the testimony Burns had submitted showing evidence of a problem, and informing him of how the bottom of Maine’s lakes today are littered with these lures.

Dave Barnes, a professional bass angler, testified for the Maine Bass Federation. Out of the thousands of bass he’s looked at, only a handful has rubber or plastic worms in them. He says degradable lures don’t hold up as well as plastic.  Barnes criticized the previous ban on the sale of 1/2 ounce lead sinkers, saying replacement sinkers are much more expensive.

The questions of committee members indicated a serious interest in doing something with these two bills. The work session on these bills is scheduled for February 19 and should be very interesting!

What Happened?

The legislature punted this issue over to DIF&W, enacting a resolve requiring the agency to conduct a study on the use of rubber lures and nondegradable fishing hooks and lures. In part three of this series, tomorrow, I’ll give you information that a fisheries researcher shared with me, and in part four on Thursday I’ll share the testimony of the American Sport Fishing Association in opposition to the legislation to ban rubber lures. Finally, on Friday, I’ll tell you about the troubling report that Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife delivered to the second session of the 126th Legislature, and include the lengthy list of recommendations issued by DIF&W.

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. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.