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Proposed Regulations Needed to Help Wild Brook Trout Thrive

December 12, 2011 - Augusta -Ice fishermen might not like it, and anglers in general may roll their eyes at another set of regulations, but if Maine grows more wild brook trout waters with the proposed fishing regulations, how can this be bad?

Based on comments gathered around the state over the past month, state fisheries biologists say there appears to be little opposition to rolling out more protection for wild brook trout waters. That's likely to come soon by way of stiffer regulations.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's advisory council will vote on the 226-page proposed regulations at their monthly meeting Wednesday at the department's headquarters in Augusta.

Wild brook trout populations are one reason why Maine's outdoors is special. It's a population that is wholly unique in the Northeast.

Today there are 324 known ponds with only wild brook trout, and 275 ponds that have wild brook trout as well as stocked fish.

State biologist want to grow both numbers. And the proposed regulations are another step in this effort.

On 40 of the protected brook trout waters already closed to ice fishing, the state is proposing to forbid use of live bait. That still allows for fishing with dead fish and worms, just not bait fish that could escape into ponds where wild populations have a chance to grab a foothold.

John Boland, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's resource management division director, said there is overwhelming public support for the proposed regulations.

Only ice fishermen Downeast complained, he said, but the department will continue to move in the direction of "terminal tackle restrictions."

Boland said it's not an anti-ice fishing movement, it's pro-wild brook trout. Minnows and smelts can destroy a trout fishery. They present competition for food and space. And, he said, invasive fish or exotic introductions is one of the top reasons behind the loss of wild populations.

"Maine has this precious unique resource, the best in the East. What we need to do is protect that," Boland said. "We are not going to change the whole complexion of Maine fishing overnight, but we need to buy into the steps we're going to take."

Downeast, a handful of waters are open to ice fishing where the state wants to restrict use of live bait. The proposed rules call for Foster Lake in Merrian and Jellison Hill Pond in Amherst to be closed to ice fishing.

At other places such as Dutton and Half Mile ponds in Amherst and Butcher Lake in Codyville, the proposal is to forbid live fish as bait.

Not everyone likes the idea of losing this often easier way of fishing.

"They're looking at an opportunity being taken away," said Greg Bur, the state fisheries biologist in the Downeast region.

"We just said, 'Look, these are special populations. We don't have a lot of them Downeast, and to have them open to ice fishing with the threat of bringing in live bait that would compete for food and space is a bad idea.' "

Jellison Hill is a unique case but a great example of what's possible in Maine.

The state has been stocking there, but it can no longer do so after a loss of access. And state biologists recently discovered there are still wild trout there, so they are going to try to grow the wild population by forbidding ice fishing.

Local fishermen don't like it, Bur said, but what they'll get in return could be a bigger draw, a nicer fishery, and something special.

"Especially Downeast, especially where we don't have a lot of wild brook trout waters, we're trying to bring the population to the front and have such a unique experience to catch a wild brook trout. Clearly, ice fishing compromises those populations," Bur said.

"People get conditioned to doing what they want to do. But before it was stocked, they went in and ice fished and fished the wild population down."

Deirdre Fleming, Maine Outdoor Journal, December 2011


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