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GUEST COLUMN
NEW RULES PROPOSED REGARDING
USE OF BAIT IN NORTHERN MAINE

           
                                   By Tim Obrey

Continued from Home Page.

If you keep your ear to the tracks regarding fishing in Maine, then you’ve probably heard about the Department’s proposal to change rules pertaining to the use of live fish as bait in the north country.  We’ve publicized the changes with a couple press releases and have held two public meetings to gather public input.  In 2018, there were 578 Heritage book trout and Arctic charr waters in the State and 41% of them are located in the Moosehead Lake Region. These ponds all have special regulations to protect the wild and native trout fisheries. Last year, there was legislation introduced to expand those protections to the tributaries to the Heritage ponds. It seems logical that regulations applied to the ponds should also include the tributaries, but there were a few details that needed to be examined a little more closely. 
For example, the Department has been working for some time on an online lawbook and a web-based application that will help identify fishing regulations based on a map or the user’s location. The Department has also been diligently working on reducing the number of regulations and simplifying the lawbook. How will adding hundreds of new regulations on streams that are probably not often fished with live bait impact these efforts? We needed to evaluate these concerns, so the legislature directed the Department to take a close look at these issues and a committee including outside stakeholders was formed to try to solve the conundrum. The goal for the Department was to add protection from illegal or inadvertent bait introductions without cluttering the lawbook with rules that created consistency, but offered limited conservation value since many of these tributaries see no fishing whatsoever. We wanted to maintain the use of bait where it was traditionally used, especially in waters open to ice fishing. A quick review revealed that there were just a few dozen waters open to ice fishing in this region, however, there were already over 100 waters with a No Live Fish as Bait regulation in the lawbook.  Each of these required a special S code regulation. Therefore, a new concept of adding an S code to waters allowing the use of bait might actually reduce the number of specials in the lawbook.  A more thorough evaluation of all the waters in the northern zone was undertaken. Each of the regions in the northern zone examined the waters in their region. Waters where live bait is currently used in the winter were identified. Also, any waters with  a traditional use of live baitfish in the summer  was identified as important to maintain.  For example, there are a few waters in this region that are closed to ice fishing but have lake trout or salmon fisheries in the summer where anglers use smelt or other baitfish. These waters would still allow the use of live fish as bait. The waters in both of these groups would receive an S code to allow the use of live bait while fishing. The General Law for the north zone would include a provision for no live fish as bait unless a more specific regulation is listed. Therefore, all the other waters would have a no live fish as bait regulation, including most flowing water. The Department feels this concept will meet all of the objectives. We will add protection from fish introductions, especially to tributaries of our Heritage waters. It could simplify the fishing regulations and may actually reduce the number of special regulations in the lawbook. It will protect the traditional use of live bait in waters where it is important. Most importantly, it will change the way anglers think about our unique native resources here in Maine.  While it will take some more work, it allows the Department to utilize new technology in developing electronic regulation applications.  Public hearings are scheduled for March 18th in Millinocket and March 20th in Hallowell. Public comments on the proposal will be accepted until April 1st. Details on where to send your comments and more information is available on the IFW website: www.maine.gov/ifw/news-events/rulemaking-proposals.html.