Legislature fishes for brook trout protection

On Tuesday (February 6), the legislature’s Fish and Wildlife Committee will tackle the issue of adding new protections for our native brook trout.

Last year in response to a bill that Representative Russell Black sponsored my request, the department promised the IFW committee that it would work to achieve the goals of that bill, including speeding up the official listing of trout waters for protection, and new protections for the tributaries to our Heritage waters where native brookies are protected.

The legislative committee carried over that bill, to give the committee a chance to act if the department did not get the job done. DIFW organized a small working group to assist in the tasks, and will report tomorrow on its progress in achieving those goals.

I’ve been pleased with the working group’s effort and with some of the department’s achievements, but they haven’t gotten the entire job done yet so the discussion tomorrow should be very interesting.
One of DIFW’s promises was to develop in advance a list of new Heritage waters for inclusion in the 2018 fishing law book. They did that, adding 17 new waters to the protected list.

A second promise was to establish a Heritage Brook Trout and Charr working group and that too was achieved. I am very encouraged that Commissioner Woodcock and fisheries division director Francis Brautigam, recently told committee members that they wanted them to continue working with agency in the future.

A third promise was to address the legislative bill’s goal of protecting tributaries to the ponds that are on the Heritage list. That has not been achieved, and the department has no plans to do that. This should be a major topic of discussion tomorrow.

The fourth promise was to develop and revise department policies so they are consistent with the actions taken.

At the working group’s meeting last Friday, Francis noted that they resolved the easiest issues and are now moving up to the tougher issues. That is certainly true.

Francis said rather than protecting tributaries, he would rather look for other ways to protect our native trout in the Heritage waters, including prohibitions on stocking fish in waters that would allow them to get into Heritage waters. He said his fishery staff is very supportive of this.

There was considerable discussion about the use of bait throughout the state although no action was proposed. Francis did say, “we won’t go to rulemaking before talking with the baitfish community.”
Sally Stockwell of Maine Audubon, a member of the working group, said she wanted to explore more protection for tributaries. “I see this as a first step and not the last step,” she said.

Gary Corson, another working group member, asked some great questions, including whether DIFW has concerns about the use of live bait in ponds and storage of bait in tributaries. I was surprised when Francis indicated theydo have concerns.

That reminded me of this is news which I reported recently:

In the 8-year period 2007 – 2015, Maine game wardens gave more citations to anglers than to hunters. Anglers received a total of 4,192 citations while hunters received 2,869.
More than half of the citations given to anglers were for fishing without a license. Here is how the citations broke out:

2,338 Fishing without a valid license
786 Fishing violation – number, amount, weight or size
573 Use of bait in artificial lure only water
255 Unattended lines (ice fishing)
240 Possessing fish in violation

It is particularly alarming to learn that so many anglers are using live bait in waters where that is illegal. That is just how so many of our native fisheries have been damaged by competing species.

Francis emphasized that he hoped legislature would not act on these issues but would leave it up to the department. The fact is this working group and the progress that is being made would not have been initiated without that legislative bill and the strong support of it from the legislature’s IFW committee.

I often submitted bills in the past to provoke action by the department and had a lot of success in doing that. I have appreciated the strong support of the legislature’s IFW committee for extending protection for native brook trout.

It will be very interesting tomorrow to see if the committee is satisfied with the progress that the department has made and is willing to kill the bill and leave it up to the department to achieve their goals.

It is my hope, at the very least, that the IFW committee will get a commitment from the department to report by next November on its progress in achieving their goals. That would give new legislators the opportunity to introduce bills in the 2019 legislative session, if the department’s progress is not satisfactory.

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.