Legislature fishes for wild brook trout

A lot of legislative fishing was done this session for wild brook trout, driven by the adoption of new rules by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to ban the use of live fish as bait on nine waters in northern Maine, to protect those waters from the possibility of the introduction of fish species other than brook trout.

The new rules incensed many northern Maine anglers and bait dealers, and they brought the issue to the legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee where it got a lot of debate, focused on LD 170, sponsored by Senator Troy Jackson, that would have overturned the new rules on all nine waters.

Rep. Jeff McCabe also submitted a wild brook trout bill at my request, and worked with me to move our suggestions forward. I am pleased to report that final action by the committee included the concepts Rep. McCabe and I advocated.

Let’s tackle the issue of the new rules on those nine waters first. The IFW Committee conducted a contentious public hearing and several work sessions on LD 170, and ultimately chose to roll back the no-live-fish-as-bait rules on the four waters that currently allow ice fishing, while allowing those rules to stand on the five other waters.

Surprisingly, DIF&W didn’t put up much of a defense for their new rules. And in the middle of the process, SAM’s Dave Trahan withdrew SAM’s previous support for the rules, making it much more difficult for the advocates of the rules, including Trout Unlimited and members of SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee, to win this fight.

After all of this debate and discussion, the IFW Committee unanimously supported the roll back on the four ice fishing waters. And in a very clever move, the committee’s House chair, Rep. Mike Shaw, moved that roll back into the department’s own bill, an “omnibus” bill that included many law changes sought by DIF&W. That made it almost impossible for the department to work against the bill and/or ask the governor to veto it.

But LD 170 refused to die. Senator Jackson surprised many by rounding up 28 votes in the Senate for his proposal to overturn the rules on all nine waters, but Rep. Shaw rallied his troops and defeated Jackson’s bill in the House, allowing the roll-back on the four waters to proceed as part of DIF&W’s omnibus bill.

The divisive debate over the protection of brook trout in just nine waters, embodied in LD 170, is a good example of why we must tackle these issues comprehensively. Here’s what Rep. McCabe and I urged the committee to do:

1) Establish a similar process for “B List” brook trout waters that the agency and the legislative IFW committee followed for “A list” brook trout waters. Specifically,

a)      Direct DIF&W to create a definitive defensible “B List” of brook trout waters (using the agency’s own definition of these waters) along with a management plan and proposed rules for the waters on that list, and to submit this information to the committee in January of 2014.

b)     Authorize the committee to create legislation on this topic after receiving this information from DIF&W.

In 2014, after the committee’s review of the department’s list, plan, and proposed rules, I am hoping they will direct the agency to go through the rule-making process to enact those rules.

The committee added all of this to the final bill. So, you can expect a whole lot of debate about this in the 2014 legislative session.

Specific Language

Here’s the specific language in the brook trout bill:

The Commissioner of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shall review the lakes and ponds that contain eastern brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, and that according to reliable records have not been stocked since January 1, 1988, hereinafter referred to as ‘B List waters’, and report the findings to the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife no later than January 15, 2014. The report shall include:

a)      A complete list of up-to-date B List waters with justification as to the qualifications for each water listed; and

b)      A management plan for the B List waters that is in accordance with the intent of the department’s mandate in 12 MRSA Section 10051 to preserve, protect and enhance the inland fisheries and wildlife resources of the State; to encourage the wise use of these resources; to ensure coordinated planning for the future use and preservation of these resources; and to provide for effective management of these resources.

The Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shall review the Commissioner’s report in the above Section and, if necessary, establish guidelines for B List waters qualifications and the management of B List waters. The Committee is authorized to submit legislation related to its findings to the Second Regular Session of the 126th legislature.

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. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.