Lots of opposition to simplifying Maine’s fishing rules

Blueback - Reed PondThe legislative hearing on my proposal to organize a Commission to simplify Maine’s complicated fishing rules drew very little support, although five members of the IFW legislative committee cosponsored the bill.

Most disappointing was the opposition of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and the “neither for nor against” testimony of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine Professional Guides Association, and the Maine Council of Trout Unlimited.

At one time SAM led the way on initiatives to clarify and simplify Maine’s laws and rules governing hunting, trapping, and fishing. But not any longer.

I’m giving you a chance to express your opinion on this issue. After you’ve read this report, go to my website, www.georgesmithmaine.com, click on Sportsmen Say Survey, and answer the first question about simplification of the fishing rules.

Rep. Dunphy

Representative Michelle Dunphy sponsored the bill at my request and presented excellent testimony. She reported that while recently cohosting Maine Outdoors, broadcast on WVOM, “a number of frustrated anglers called in asking for an explanation of the newly-revised S-33 code, which states simply that the maximum length for landlocked salmon and brown trout to taken is 25 inches. But where is this the case, you ask? The answer is different depending on the body of water.”

Michelle went on to detail the confusion when applying the S-33 codes to various waters. “It takes a lot of research for an angler to find that information in order to obey the law,” she noted.

“This resolve is designed not to rid our conservation landscape of protections for our fisheries – not at all. But making regulations understandable is only one piece of the puzzle. Broader input from folks other than scientists and administrators might bring up the question about the need for regulations that are specific to only one body of water when more general rules might do just as much,” she said.

My Testimony

I testified that over the years I probably got more complaints about the complexity of fishing rules than any other issue. I wrote an Outdoor News column last year, as I fished through the law book for the rules governing some of my favorite waters. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe my search. And that column drew a lot of comments about the difficulty of finding and understanding our fishing rules.

Last year, Commissioner Chandler Woodcock informed the IFW Committee that in 2017 they would simplify the law book, and then work to simplify the rules. That seemed backwards to me. If they would simplify the rules, then the rule book would be a lot simpler and easier to navigate.

During my years at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, we sponsored regular reviews, by our Pickering Commission, of hunting, trapping, and fishing laws and rules, came up with lots of recommendations, most of which were enacted by the legislature. DIF&W always participated in that work.

Well, it’s time to take another stab at simplifying the fishing rules. And I believe it is important that outside interests participate. We should not leave this up to the agency.

I did acknowledge that DIF&W simplified the rule book this year, including listing special regulations alphabetically, and creating what they call a “simple and easy how to use this book” section. And I applaud them for their effort, while encouraging you to take some time to look through the 2017 law book. They have made it easier to navigate, but it is still not easy to figure out the rules that govern your favorite waters. The book is 64 pages long, crowded with all the rules that govern fishing inland waters in our state.

I pulled out a copy of the new law book, and opened it to page 26, to read the rules governing a small 50 acre pond near my home. Kimball Pond holds stocked brook trout and smallmouth bass.

The law book lists: Kimball Pond, New Sharon, Vienna (south region). General fishing laws apply, except: CI. S-6, S-10, S-13, S-16.

As I read the exceptions, members of the IFW Committee began to laugh. How could so many special rules be necessary for a small pond with two species of fish?


Fisheries Division Director Francis Brautigam testified against the bill, reporting on the agency’s improvements in the fishing rule book, and noting that “additional reforms are planned for the 2018 fishing law book.

“The proposed creation of a new formal group under LD 187 is unnecessary given our recent law book reforms and our plans for additional simplification reforms in the 2018 fishing law book,” testified Brautigam. “Under the circumstances, the creation of a formal stakeholder workgroup would create an unnecessary diversion of staff time and resources.”

Brautigam did say, in response to a question, “If there are any good ideas out there, we welcome them.” He also noted that “nothing is simple.”

Of course, there is no process in place for you to share your good ideas for simplifying our fishing laws and rules. And if you think the department is going to get that job done on its own, well, good luck!


I was particularly disappointed in the testimony of SAM’s executive director, David Trahan, although he did praise me and Representative Dunphy for proposing the bill, stating “this is an important issue to our membership and the general fishing public.”

But he also said, “I caution the committee that attacking the rules, through a separate newly established committee, is dangerous territory as each rule has been established for a purpose and when changed or repealed can trigger political backlash.”

Last legislative session DIF&W promised, in reaction to another of my bills, to reach out to SAM and others in a collaborative effort in 2017 to simplify the fishing laws and rules. I guess that isn’t going to happen!


Don Kleiner, lobbyist for the Maine Professional Guides Association, cautioned the IFW Committee against “the temptation of playing biologist.”

Don said our wealth of waters causes the complication of fishing rules. “I do not believe this committee should go into rule-making,” he said. He did mention Ron Cote’s app that provides information on fishing rules on all of Maine’s lakes and ponds, something I wrote about last week.

Trout Unlimited

Jeff Reardon, representing TU, testified, “We agree with the bill proponents that the rulebook could be made more accessible, but we are concerned that the desire to simplify the rule book may result in the loss of regulations that are important to protect sensitive fish populations.”

Of course, simplified rules could also improve protection of our native brook trout and other species.

Jeff went on to advocate for our wild trout resources, something I appreciated. And if a Commission is organized, he offered some suggestions, including broadening the mission and membership by adding environmental groups.

Finally, he offered some interesting suggestions:

  • The Department should consider whether it remains appropriate to manage landlocked Arctic charr under the same regulations as brook trout, given a fairly steep decline in charr populations in several lakes following introduction of rainbow smelt.
  • The Department should consider whether sea-run brook trout populations should have more restrictive regulations than stream-resident brook trout.
  • The Department should investigate whether changes in “General Law” regulations might reduce the number of water-body-specific regulations listed in the rule book. Maine has hundreds of “No Live Fish As Bait” listings. A shift to “No Live Fish As Bait” as general law in the northern zone, with exceptions for those waters where use of live bait is appropriate, would likely shorten the rule book and simultaneously provide more protection to native brook trout.

PHOTO: Blueback trout, Reed Pond

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.