Recently, Bob Mallard made some observations on the sampling practices of our citizen science efforts to document the presence of native brook trout in remote ponds and coastal streams (“Survey Kills Fish Just To Prove They’re There,” July 20). He makes some excellent points on advising volunteers to use artificial lures and flies, which are documented to result in lower mortality than using worms as bait.

Both Maine Audubon and Trout Unlimited are committed to the conservation of native brook trout, and our work with volunteers has improved our understanding of their distribution across the state. We strive to improve our program each year, and this year we adopted a set of best practices to guide our volunteers in techniques in catching fish and handling them. We are “learning by doing” this summer, trying a process with our volunteers and seeing how it works. Based on this pilot approach we will evaluate the experience in the fall and solicit expert advice on our best practices.

Our effort is a careful balance of the interests of recreational fishing and conservation. In science-based field work, often it is necessary to collect samples that result in the mortality of individuals. On the trip Mallard observed, several of our volunteers were capturing trout for a study that required fish to be necropsied to remove tissue samples to confirm use of salt water by brook trout. The goal is to develop a technique that will allow future tests to be taken from a non-lethal scale or fin sample.

While we strongly encourage the use of lures and flies, there are conditions where using worms is realistically one of the few techniques for successfully catching trout. Because it often takes several days of planning, driving and bushwhacking to get into and out of these remote ponds, we really need to know if there are native brook trout in a given body of water before a volunteer leaves. Once the presence of brook trout is confirmed, we ask our volunteers to move along to their next assignment.

The program has brought much-needed attention to the plight of native brook trout. We have sampled more than 500 water bodies across the state and involved 360 volunteers who have contributed more than 7,000 volunteer hours. We think it’s safe to say the native brook trout population is better understood and will be better protected due to this program.

Mallard is a noted expert on fishing, the author of many books on the topic and by many accounts a very accomplished fisherman. We need experienced anglers like him involved in our efforts so that we can achieve the goal we all share: protecting the habitat of this iconic Maine species.

Ole Amundsen III is executive director of Maine Audubon. Jeffrey Reardon is Maine brook trout project director for Trout Unlimited.

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