Alter your fish and you’ll be in big trouble

A new law governing fisheries included language that “prohibits anglers from altering fish, including smelts, from their natural state until after they have conducted a wet measure.” That’s the way the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife described their proposal, sponsored for the agency by Senator Scott Cyrway, Senate chair of the IFW Committee.

Cyrway, in his testimony, explained that “fishermen are cleaning smelts and cutting the heads off at the stream, in order to allow an increased limit of fish, and this is negatively impacting the smelt population.”

The bill also replaces, in law, the term “alewives” with the term “river herring.” Cyrway explained that this is the “correct reference when referring to both alewives and blueback herring.”

The bill also removed several species from the definition of baitfish. “This is due to the fact that the baitfish either does not exist in Maine waters, is found in much localized areas or the use of it as baitfish may cause it to be introduced in other Maine waters with potentially adverse effects.”

Francis Brautigam, DIF&W’s Fisheries Division Director, also testified for the bill, informing the committee that the three baitfish being removed from the list are emerald shiners, blacknose shiners, and spottail shiners. Francis noted that this still leaves anglers with 16 special of legal baitfish for sale and use in Maine.

Sebastian Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association opposed the bill, reporting that a fisheries working group did not agree with these changes, and noting that there are aquaculture businesses that grow these baitfish for sale out of state. Bruce Steeves, a Maine bait dealer, also opposed the bill.

The bill won the unanimous support of the IFW Committee, and was enacted by the full legislature and signed into law by the governor.

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,, 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.