October 26, 2012

Ice-fishermen criticize proposed live bait-fish ban at hearing

Opponents argue that the real threat to wild brook trout are non-native sport fish that are illegally introduced.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BRUNSWICK — Few fishermen attended the last of four public hearings on the state's proposed live bait regulation, but those who came to Brunswick High School felt passionately about the issue.

"I am afraid if this passes, you are going to see worse than bait fish in these waters. I don't think anyone wants to see that. But when was the last time there was a summons (for an illegal fish introduction)?" said Bruce Steeves of Raymond, suggesting that non-native pike or muskie might be introduced into the waters affected by the ban in retalliation if ice fishermen are prohibited from using live bait.

The proposed regulation would ban using live fish as bait on 16 wild brook trout waters in Maine, the idea being to reduce competition between the bait fish and trout for food. The regulation would apply to both open-water fishing and ice fishing; but it mostly would affect ice fishermen who use live bait almost exclusively.

Proponents of the ban believe it will help protect Maine's wild brook trout waters. Wild brook trout do not tolerate competition from other fish.

Opponents argue that the real threat to wild brook trout are non-native sport fish that are illegally introduced by fishermen into Maine waters each year. They say the live-bait-fish rule won't solve this problem, but will merely give the appearance that the state has taken steps to protect the trout.

The first three public hearings on the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife proposal were held in Presque Isle, Millinocket and Ellsworth earlier this week.

A crowd of more than 100 attended Tuesday's hearing in Millinocket turned a snowmobile clubhouse into a standing-room-only venue where ice fishermen called the proposal unfair.

The department's Advisory Council will vote on the proposed regulation in December. The public comment period on the rule ends Nov. 15.

Thursday's hearing at Brunswick High School drew 22 people, few of whom spoke. But the issue has clearly divided ice fishermen and fly fishermen who want to preserve Maine's wild brook trout population.

"I'm sorry if I get emotional. Tonight I'm pretty passionate about this," said ice fisherman Wade Robertson of Bowdoin. "Education, not segregation (of ice fishermen) is the answer."

Keith Jones, 27, of Freeport, said that if passed, the regulation would change the culture around northern Maine lakes, where his family has a camp.

"If it passes, it will open up other waters to the list," he said.

Those who spoke for the ban represented Trout Unlimited, Maine Audubon and the public working group to consider ways to save the wild brook trout.

Just one local fisherman supported the regulation.

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

 

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