AUGUSTA — State officials may ban the use of live bait by ice fishermen on 16 lakes in northern Maine to help protect wild brook trout populations, state officials said Wednesday.
But sportsfishermen said the proposal wouldn’t address the real threat to native brook trout waters, the illegal introduction of bass and other competing, non-native game fish. The proposed rule was discussed at a monthly meeting of the advisory council of Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock told the council that the proposed rule was only a first step toward saving wild brook trout populations. Woodcock had promised to address threats to the state’s wild trout fishery when he took over the department in 2011.
“This is only an attempt to preserve the resource. The resource is what we’re looking at, and we’re trying to protect it as well as we can,” Woodcock said.
Wild brook trout populations do poorly when forced to share the same water bodies with a lot of other species, said the department’s fisheries director Mike Brown. Ice fishermen who dump their leftover live bait fish through the ice and into a pond or lake at the end of the day may be introducing a new species, he said.
Maine is home to the lion’s share of the nation’s wild brook trout waters, Brown said. The proposed live-bait rule would help protect 16 key headwaters that feed watersheds that are home to many of those wild brook trout populations, he said.
State officials said they would not release the names of the 16 lakes until the proposal is reviewed by the Secretary of State’s Office, which could make changes.
Ice fishermen who spoke against the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting said the intentional illegal introduction of larger fish species — such as bass and pike — is the real threat to Maine’s wild brook trout, not the accidental dumping of live baitfish during ice fishing season.
“I’m not hearing a good analysis of the real problem. The real problem is bass fishermen moving the fish they want. Let’s fix the problem. I don’t know how to do that, but I know we’re not doing it with this,” said Rick Denaco of Vassalboro.
A half dozen ice fishermen disagreed with the plan, including Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Davis said the proposed rule would threaten Maine’s ice fishing heritage.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls in the last week on the live-bait issue. I would urge you to consider it as a wider issue and maybe put in legislation, rather than passing it through rule-making,” Davis said.
Others said IFW should drop the rule and instead ramp up its educational efforts to stop the illegal introduction of non-native fish.
“I’ve fished a lot of ponds (on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway) the past four to five years. And I was approached by maybe two (biologists). (Fisheries) people are just not getting around,” said Lee Thornton, whose family runs Nugent’s Camps on the Chamberlain Lake. But Woodcock stood by the proposed rule.
“We took the Allagash off the list (of 16 waters). It’s very historic … But is it off the table? No. We will look at that in the future. There is no question we will,” Woodcock said.
The proposed live-bait rule will go to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office next week. It will then be open to public comment for two months, including at three public hearings around the state, before it is voted on by the advisory council on Nov. 15. The three public hearings will be on Oct. 22, 23 and 24, at sites to be determined.