May 23, 2010

Allen Afield: Surprising increase in bag limits has a moral

In late April, Tom Seymour, an outdoors writer from Waldo, pointed out to me that the state's new Open Water & Ice Fishing Laws and Rules booklet said the inland daily bag limit on salmonids in general-law waters had risen from five fish in the aggregate to 10 to 13 trout and salmon, depending on the county and type of water.

Bag limits may differ in lakes and ponds as opposed to brooks, streams and rivers.

Seymour writes for me in my other work life, so I trusted his information. However, no one had been talking about such a monumental change, so I assumed someone in the understaffed, overworked Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) had made an error when compiling the booklet.

Wow, was I wrong. Ten to 13 fish in general-law waters is no mistake, and the bureaucrats knew the change was coming for the past two years, the best-kept secret in the state until recently.

The previous regulations booklet had read, "Daily limit & possession limits: 5 fish in the aggregate not to include more than: 2 landlock salmon, 2 brown trout, 2 rainbow trout, 5 brook trout (includes splake & arctic char)."

The state still has S-regulations on certain waters, which may be stricter or more lenient than general law, depending on management goals.

On the fifth page of the new booklet, though, the aggregate wording had disappeared for general waters, so it now said anglers can catch two landlocked salmon, two lake trout, two brown trout, two rainbow trout and two to five brook trout daily, adding up to 10 to 13 salmonids. (In the eyes of the law, splake or arctic char fall into the brookie category here).

In Androscoggin, Cumberland, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Penobscot, Sagadahoc, Waldo, Washington and York counties, the daily bag limit in general-law ponds and lakes is two brook trout and in brooks, streams and rivers it's five. In the rest of the counties in the northern part of the state, the daily limit is five brookies in all general waters, explaining why it's 10 or 13 salmonids.

The newest regulations booklet deliberately excluded the aggregate reference, so the limit jumped from five to 10 to 13 salmonids.

When catch-and-release advocates discover this change, they'll be absolutely livid. On the other hand, this move will delight catch-and-eat advocates.

Joe Dembeck, fisheries management supervisor for IFW, told me in an e-mail, "The statewide aggregate bag limit was removed during rule-making in 2008."

According to Dembeck, "If a lake had landlocked salmon, togue (lake trout) and brook trout, the regional staff would make length, season and bag limit regulations for each species independent of other species."

The state agency left some aggregate regulations for border waters with New Hampshire and New Brunswick.

Dembeck explained that anglers could catch 10 to 13 salmonids in one day, but they would need to travel to more than one stocked lake or to a number of waters to achieve this feat.

Which is technically wrong. I have caught landlocks, brookies and browns in one day from Long Pond in Belgrade Lakes, the Solon stretch of the Kennebec River and other spots too numerous to list. If more than one species exists in a drainage, somewhat common in Maine, then no reason exists why folks can't catch multiple species -- say browns and rainbows.

Dembeck did emphasize that "the removal of the aggregate bag limit does not change how fisheries management decisions are made in water bodies throughout the state."

The fact this story developed so quietly with no fanfare still shocks me -- and "shock" is no hyperbole. This is the single largest change in Maine's fishing regulations in my lifetime.

The story underscores what this column has covered recently. Fishing advocates in Maine are so busy fighting with one another over turf that they miss important changes.

Whether we agree or not with a 10- to 13-fish daily bag limit, it would be nice for the public to at least know it was happening, and that would begin with cooperation among the troops.

The June 2010 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine covered this need for folks to start forming a cohesive front for the betterment of fishing and habitat and to stop behaving in a better-than-thou manner.

John Randolph, publisher of Fly Fisherman, wrote a column in latest issue that urges readers to check out an article by Dylan Tomine to learn why anglers should be more open and forgiving toward our companion "watermen," a term we'll see more in the future. A waterman embraces the entire water environment.

Randolph also encourages readers to release all our fish, but then paraphrases Tomine, who thinks we should not take the moral high ground because we do let our catch go while condemning those who don't. Tomine said, as many Native Americans point out, "Why play with your food?"

This all gets down to respecting one another's opinions and exercising tolerance.

 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

KAllyn800@yahoo.com

 

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