This is part four in my five part series about the problems and issues of rubber worms. In part one I shared Henry’s story with you. Part 2 was about the unsuccessful effort at the legislature to address this problem. In part three of this series, I gave you information that a fisheries researcher shared with me, and today, in part four, I’ll share the testimony of the American Sport Fishing Association in opposition to the legislation to ban rubber worms. Finally, tomorrow, I’ll tell you about a troubling report from Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and give you the agency’s lengthy list of recommendations.
Testimony of Gordon Robertson, vice president of American Sport Fishing Association
Testimony of the American Sportfishing Association on LD 42/HP 37, “An Act to Prohibit the Use of Rubber Lures for Fishing” – February 5, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the opportunity to present testimony on the topic of soft baits used for recreational fishing. The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is the sportfishing industry’s trade association and has represented the industry since1933. We understand that for our members’ businesses to succeed the Nation must have abundant and sustainable fisheries. Therefore, we spend considerable resources assuring that actions at the state and federal level support clean waters, healthy habitats and angler access to the public’s fishery resources.
We urge the committee to not pass this legislation but instead allow the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to conduct the appropriate field studies to determine if this theoretical problem with soft baits poses any practical population management problem in Maine to fish and other aquatic life and to further determine the role of angler education in minimizing the number of soft baits discarded while fishing.
To the best of our knowledge the Maine legislature is the first to consider legislation on this topic. Also, we are not aware of any study other than the 2009 laboratory study by G. Russell Danner published in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management that raises a concern with soft baits. In addition, we know of no study of fish in the wild on this topic. To the contrary industry research involving literally thousands of soft baits to test fish of many species (particularly bass and trout) has indicated minimal problems for the research fish involved. The research experience is that the fish either regurgitate or pass the baits without problem. These studies fed baits appropriate for the size of the fish being tested. It is possible that the Danner study may have fed trout large soft baits and the selection of those size ranges is much less likely to occur by free swimming trout in the wild. There is a wide variety of types, sizes and shapes of soft baits and we are not aware of these causing problems, even in laboratory experiments.
We do know that soft baits are popular among anglers and that they comprise a considerable segment of the artificial bait market. They are popular because they negate the need to obtain and keep live baits and they are effective. For this reason they are especially popular with non-resident anglers who visit Maine to sportfish. From the publication Sportfishing in America published in January 2013 we know that anglers in Maine provide a $614,401,455 economic infusion to the state each year supporting 6,723 Maine jobs. This economic engine from recreational fishing in Maine also provides $42.8 million in state and local tax revenue. Forty-four percent of Maine’s angling days are done by non-resident anglers. Obviously curtailing the use of popular artificial baits may cause a negative impact on tourism expenditures in Maine. In addition, forcing anglers to use live bait, or once live baits, can cause the inadvertent introduction of nonnative invasive aquatic species.
Obviously Maine wishes to take prudent steps to sustain its fishery resource base and the economic base that flows from recreational fishing. Given that there is no study of the impact of soft baits on fish and other aquatic life in the wild, legislation banning these types of popular baits is unwarranted. The legislation seeks to ban “rubber” baits with rubber being undefined. Realistically, there are no such baits on the market as soft baits are made from various substances, none of which are rubber. There are biodegradable soft baits available and this legislation would ban even the use of those baits and certainly does nothing to encourage further research into that area or to improve consumer demand for those types of baits.
Much can also be done through angler education to minimize the number of soft baits lost. There are, and can be more, soft bait recycling programs and programs describing the proper disposal of used soft baits. Anglers by nature are conservationists and they will react positively to practical, commonsense programs that allow them to fish with effective baits and that educate them on their use and disposal. We encourage the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to work with local angler groups to accomplish this.
Again, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, we urge you to reject this legislation and instead allow the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to conduct the appropriate field studies to determine if this theoretical problem with soft baits poses any practical population management problem in Maine to fish and other aquatic life and to further determine the role of angler education in minimizing the number of soft baits discarded while fishing.
Thank you and please make these comments part of the official hearing record.