Maine’s native and wild brook trout lakes, ponds, and flowing waters represent a unique and abundant resource, uncommon anywhere else in the United States. Maine supports the most extensive distribution and abundance of wild brook trout and Arctic charr in their native US range, and the Department places a high priority on the conservation of these important resources.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is exploring a strategy to maintain fishing opportunities and enhance protections for Maine’s wild brook trout populations within the state’s northern half, which contains our most significant wild trout populations and 95% of Maine’s heritage fish waters. Maine’s heritage fish waters contain self-sustaining populations of wild brook trout, Arctic charr or both; and either have never been stocked, or have not been stocked for at least 25 years. The 128th Fish and Wildlife Legislative Committee requested we enhance protections on this important resource.
The Department and a group of public partners have formed a heritage working group and are developing and examining concepts that are focused on reducing unintended introductions of baitfish and other fish that compete with native trout, while continuing to maintain current trout fishing opportunities. This includes maintaining opportunities to use live fish as bait where such practices are prevalent, minimizing economic impacts to Maine’s bait industry, and not complicating the fishing law book.
Under the idea currently being discussed, all waters in the northern zone (Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook, and northern portions of Oxford and Penobscot Counties) that are currently open to ice fishing, where live fish may be used at bait, would remain unchanged. Live fish as bait would continue to be allowed on those same waters during the open water fishing season. Additional waters where there is a tradition of fishing with live fish as bait would also remain open to fishing with live bait. If advanced as a rule, the Department could add waters where use of live fish as bait would be permitted in support of future fishery management needs.
The strategy, if fully developed and advanced, would result in a change to the general law in the northern zone that would prohibit use of live fish as bait, except where designated by special rule. For example, under this approach, waters currently open to ice fishing and use of live fish as bait would be assigned a special regulation that would allow use of live fish as bait. A change to General Law will be easy to understand by the public and should increase compliance. This change also eliminates most of the “no live fish as bait” special s-code listings currently applied to waters in the northern zone.
This strategy would further reduce new introductions of baitfish and other fish in the vast majority of flowing waters, including dead-waters, small ponds, as well as tributaries and outlets of heritage ponds, while preserving meaningful opportunities to fish with traditional live bait methods in northern Maine.
The Department is striving to balance public use opportunities and concerns regarding new fish introductions that threaten Maine’s unique wild brook trout resources. Maine’s native brook trout already have been severely impacted from introductions and habitat degradation throughout the remainder of their range, including southern coastal Maine.
The Department is planning to hold public informational meetings in the next few months and would welcome your input on the proposal. The dates and locations have not yet been determined, but will be posted on the Department’s website at www.mefishwildlife.com as soon as the dates are determined.