“The committee is sometimes confused,” said Francis Brautigam, speaking on February 16 to his fisheries working group about the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.
Francis was deeply upset about the February 6 IFW Committee work session on expanding protection for our native brook trout. I reported on that work session in this column on February 9.
I am afraid that Francis doesn’t understand that the IFW Committee has jurisdiction over his agency and programs, and he needs to keep them informed on the issues and earn their respect.
That legislative work session was disastrous for Francis. His written report was inaccurate and both Gary Corson and Steve Brooke, well-respected members of the working group and long-time advocates for our native brook trout, were compelled to get up and tell the committee that.
At the February 16 meeting with the working group, Francis said, “It bothers me that there is a sense of distrust,” between the group’s members and the department. “What happened at the legislature confirmed what the staff feels – distrust of the working group,” he said.
He also complained that “the working group came off as disjointed” at the work session. He was very wrong about that as legislators were very grateful for the testimony offered by working group members as well as by Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited and me.
For a while, Francis and the group discussed all of this but eventually moved on to the task at hand, creating new protections for our book trout and Arctic Charr.
One key issue is protection of the tributaries to the waters on our Heritage list. In his report, Francis claimed the working group had agreed that tributaries did not need to be protected. That was untrue.
During the work session Francis actually told the legislative committee that if they wanted tributaries protected the department would do that.
The committee has been very clear that they want tributaries protected, but I am still very skeptical that the department will ever do it.
We’ll know by October, because the IFW Committee directed Francis to continue this work and report back in mid-October.
Sally Stockwell, a working group member representing Maine Audubon, said she was disappointed that Francis left out of his report some key ideas and projects that the working group has been clear that they want to pursue, and she agreed with me the legislature was very pleased with the working group.
Sally was clear that she has an open mind about the best approach for conserving our native book trout and mentioned again a suggestion that we implement a no-live-fish-as-bait rule on all moving waters in the northern part of the state, something that would actually simplify the fishing rulebook.
Without using my name, Francis was pretty clear that he and his staff don’t like me and others who have gone to the legislature over the years with bills to protect our native brook trout.
Steve Brooke spoke forcefully about the need for “extraordinary protection for our native book trout. I’ve watched as the state has lost lots of these fish. Arctic char are the most at risk and have no protection,” said Steve.
Gary Corson noted that the fisheries division staff hasn’t bought into our efforts to protect native book trout over the last 17 years and called for a statement of purpose that they could all agree on.
There was some talk about the need to incorporate bait dealers and anglers into the discussion. Sebastian Bell of the Maine Aquaculture Association represents bait dealers on the working group and is an excellent representative for them.
Jeff Reardon said the biggest disappointment of his TU group is that the department’s promise to take these issues to rulemaking didn’t happen. He suggested that Francis should have told the legislative committee that his agency didn’t get the job done and just needed more time to do that.
Jeff noted that Maine has considerably fewer restrictions on the use of live bait than other states and suggested moving toward a rule, no-live-fish-as-bait, in places where bait is not now used. That would simplify the rules.
The working group and fisheries division is clearly struggling with all of this, but I am hopeful that they will make good progress on protecting our native brook trout and Artic Charr, and be able to deliver a very positive report to the legislature in October.