The worst of a drought that at one point gripped much of Maine is over – we have the late-season snowstorms to thank for that.
But the drought’s effects will linger for a while, nowhere more noticeably than in the state’s multimillion-dollar brook trout fishery, which took a hit as streams and brooks dried up across the state.
The good news is that the resilient brookies will rebound quickly, aided by anglers who put the industry’s long-term health above short-term concerns. If the drought shows how an economy built on natural resources is vulnerable to the whims of nature, then these fishermen prove that we are not powerless if we look ahead.
As the historically severe drought intensified last fall, affecting more than 1 million Mainers, the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued an advisory asking anglers to go easy on cold-water species like brook trout. Low water levels had left brookies stranded and unable to move to the colder habitat they prefer, making them easier prey in shallow pools, and weaker and less able to survive handling by fishermen favoring catch and release.
Protecting brook trout is of the utmost importance – they are why many people come to fish in Maine, home to 97 percent of the wild brook trout waters in the eastern United States. Fishing in Maine generates more than $300 million a year, and 60 percent of Maine fishermen and 47 of nonresidents say they are looking for brook trout.
Press Herald reporter Diedre Fleming talked to a few fishermen who took the advisory to heart. Evelyn King of Cundy’s Harbor said she didn’t fish last fall. “We used the drought as an opportunity to learn more about where the fish’s pools were,” she said.
Todd Towle, a Registered Maine Guide, stopped too, saying he didn’t want to risk damaging the population of wild brook trout that drives his business. “People don’t come to fish in Maine for a hatchery system,” he told Fleming.
As anglers set out this spring to fish their favorite spots, they should keep that in mind, and look for signs that fishing too much this year could worsen their catches in coming years. Not all do – there have been anecdotal reports of fishermen targeting fish in depleted waterways, where they are more easily caught.
We should remember the responsible fishermen when evaluating other actions related to managing natural resources and promoting outdoor recreation.
It is a philosophy like theirs that has led to the preservation and maintenance of valuable habitat, and the introduction and enforcement of zoning laws that limit pollution.
And it’s the same philosophy that says we should be preparing locally for the effects of climate change, in order to limit the impact of floods and droughts, and of rising temperatures and altered landscapes.
With so much riding on nature, we have to take the long view.