Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

January 3, 2008 – 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street, Augusta

Attending:

Roland D. Martin, Commissioner
Paul F. Jacques, Deputy Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Assistant to the Commissioner
Ken Elowe, Director of the Bureau of Resource Management
Mark Stadler, Wildlife Division Director
Deb Turcotte, Director of Information & Education
John Boland, Director of Fisheries Operations
Francis Brautigam, Fisheries Biologist
Jim Pellerin, Fisheries Biologist
Gregg Sanborn, Acting Colonel, Warden Service
Warden Steven P. Allarie, Whitewater Boating Specialist
Becky Orff, Secretary and Recorder

Council Members:

Joe Clark, Vice-Chair
Mike Witte
Frank Dunbar
Ron Usher
Steve Philbrick
Bos Savage
Sheri Oldham
Ray Poulin

Guests:

Gary Corson, New Sharon
Kristie Usher
Katie Liznick, Society of the United States
Don Allen, President, Sebago Lake Anglers Assoc.
George Minette, Sebago Lake Anglers Assoc.

I. Call to Order

Mr. Clark, Council Vice-Chair, called the meeting to order.

II. Introductions

Introductions were made.

III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Council Meeting

Motion made by Mr. Poulin and seconded by Mr. Philbrick to accept the minutes of the previous Council meeting as written.

Vote: Unanimous – minutes accepted as written.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

1. 2008 Moose Season

Mr. Stadler stated the Department had received a petition from some folks in the Lincoln area regarding car/moose accidents. As a result of that petition, Mark Caron, the regional biologist in Enfield and Karen Morris, the moose biologist, met with them in Lincoln about their concerns. As a result of that discussion, the group in Lincoln decided to submit comments to the Commissioner’s office regarding the 2008 moose permit allocations. The letter asked that the Commissioner consider additional permits and an expansion of the moose hunting season. At the same time, the Department had proposed increases in the moose permit allocations in WMDs 3 and 6. As a result of some comments received from the Advisory Council expressing concern about that, the Commissioner took that under advisement.

As a result of concerns expressed about WMDs 3 and 6 and the request that we received from the citizens in the Lincoln area, the Commissioner scheduled 2 public hearings to discuss the Department’s 2008 moose permit allocations. We conducted a hearing in Lincoln. Concerns regarding WMDs 3 and 6 were expressed. There was also concern expressed about moose/vehicle collisions. The meeting in Caribou, the public was saying that they would welcome the opportunity to have more moose permits, but they were concerned about issues with over crowding and hunters bunching up, etc. They were receptive to more permits, but they wanted the Department to work with them to develop a process whereby we could spread out or lower the concentration of hunters. That would be similar to what we tried to do with turkey hunters to maintain the quality of the hunt.

Based on the public comment the Department was proposing for the 2008 permit allocations that we stay with the numbers that were authorized for 2007. There would be no permit increases in WMDs 3 and 6, and no increases in permits in Lincoln, Enfield or Medway either.

Council Member Questions and Comments

Commissioner Martin asked council members to look at the proposal. We were backing off on our proposed increases in WMDs 3 and 6 and we were going with what we had allotted for the year 2007. However, the totals in the chart did not reflect the 135 permits that were authorized for southern and coastal Maine.

Mr. Philbrick asked about the comment made by Matt Libby at the Caribou public hearing. “My son and I both fly fire patrol from Quebec and New Brunswick…a definite reduction in sightings.” Obviously we used airplane sightings for other programs, bear, bobcat, etc; this seemed to be very useful information relative to those zones that did fire patrol. Having formerly been a fire patrol pilot in his area, it seemed to him that this was a good resource, particularly Matt and his son, and we should be using that.

Mr. Stadler stated this was an issue that came up frequently with the Council. One of the things he felt we needed to do sometime was have a presentation about scientific research, study design and statistics. Those things were very critical in doing this type of thing. Much of what Matt was seeing, in the wildlife profession, would say it was anecdotal. There were ways it could be made to conform to a scientific design that would have statistical reliability behind it.

Mr. Philbrick stated we had a public perception problem, anecdotal meant nothing to them. He felt we should use Matt Libby’s information to our benefit; it was valuable and didn’t require a lot of money because he was already doing it. Those kinds of people brought credibility and knowledge.

Commissioner Martin stated he felt Mr. Philbrick should know why Matt said what he said in Caribou. He was there not necessarily promoting an increase or decrease in numbers. There was a lot of discussion about what the true numbers were. What Matt was suggesting was use resources, do some flying, etc.

Mr. Savage referred to Matt’s comment that he was seeing less moose. The question that needed to be asked was why he was seeing less moose. Was it because there were less moose or because they were less visible with the clearcuts growing up?

Mr. Witte stated being on the moose committee, that was one of the issues that was being addressed. Some format that we could get better data. He referred to the article in the Northwood’s Sporting Journal by Vaughn Anthony and also his appearance on Wildfire. SAM’s position seemed to be at opposite ends of the working group.

Commissioner Martin asked about the status of the moose working group.

Mr. Stadler stated there would be an internal, “family” meeting on the issue coming right up. Then, another working group meeting would be scheduled.

Mrs. Oldham complimented the Department for altering their decision for moose permit allocations. Reading the public comments, the most important thing that came out to her was the quality of the hunt and safety issues in terms of congregating hunters in certain areas. At the “family” meeting of the moose working group, if moose hunting was being discussed, she hoped that the quality of the hunt issue was addressed on a high priority level.

Mr. Dunbar discussed past moose hunts that he had been on and help he had received from locals, wardens, etc. He felt the moose numbers were still there, but where the habitat had grown up so bad over the years was why hunters were congregating so bad.

Commissioner Martin stated he had asked Mr. Stadler and staff to look at hunter opportunities for next year. Not necessarily adding another week, but other opportunities.

Mr. Clark stated another thing was I95 from Howland to Houlton, DOT used salt brine to clear the road and that brought out a lot of moose. Maybe a letter should be written to DOT asking them if there was an alternative solution to put in the salt brine to deter the moose from coming onto the interstate. Another thing was clear cutting right up to the buffer. That brought moose onto the interstate as well. Mr. Clark asked the group if they felt a letter to DOT would be appropriate.

The Council answered yes.

Commissioner Martin asked Mr. Stadler to draft a letter for Mr. Clark to sign and send to DOT.

Motion made by Mrs. Oldham and seconded by Mr. Usher to accept the proposal as presented.

Vote: Unanimous – proposal accepted as presented.

2. Horsepower Restriction, Puffer’s Pond, Dexter

Mrs. Erskine stated we were petitioned to consider a horsepower restriction on Puffer’s Pond in Dexter. A public hearing was held on November 8. The hearing was fairly well attended. A mix of testimony was given and additional comments had been received. The Commissioner’s decision was to not move forward with the petition request. There would be no action necessary by the Council.

Commissioner Martin stated one of the things he had to consider was health and safety issues. He was not convinced there was an issue there. Although the pond itself was very small, there was no compelling reason to move forward. He had conferred with the member from that county on his decision and Mr. Poulin who had attended the public hearing. There was no issue before the Council.

Mr. Savage asked if there was anything between 10 h.p. and everything else? Was that an option?

Commissioner Martin stated yes, that was an option. We used 10 h.p. as a guide because that’s what we had been using as common practice. The petition was pretty concise and did say 10 h.p. He would not move forward with something other than what was on the petition. It was possible that someone in that area would seek legislation.

B. Step 2

1. Heritage Waters – Arctic Charr

Mr. Boland stated a couple of years ago as the result of legislation we identified brook trout as one of Maine’s heritage fish. Along with that, by substantive rule, we identified a list of waters where brook trout existed that were self sustaining, had never been stocked and as far as we knew the genetics of that particular strain was pure. By identifying that particular list, we agreed we would not stock that water with any species or allow it to be stocked. Secondly, we would not allow the use of live bait on that water. There was legislation last year which identified Arctic charr as another of Maine’s heritage fish and we had identified a list of waters where Arctic charr existed naturally, were self sustaining and had never been stocked with Arctic charr. We were agreeing they should be put on this list; we would agree not to stock these waters with any species and in this particular case they all had bait restrictions. This was Step 2 of the process. Only one comment had been received so far and that was from Trout Unlimited.

Mrs. Erskine stated that because this was a Major Substantive rule we would go through the rulemaking process to this point and during the upcoming legislative session the Committee would have the part of the bill to approve the rule or amend it. They would hold a public hearing as well. Once the legislation was passed it would come back to the Council for final adoption. It probably would not come back to the Council until February or March.

Mr. Boland stated there were a handful of other charr waters. They were not on the list because they had been stocked.

C. Step 1

1. Sebago Rules

Mr. Boland stated we were proposing to allow fall fishing at Sebago Lake. We were in the process of putting together the open water lawbook. One thing we had done, nearly all the waters in southern and central Maine now have been open through November. In our effort to simplify the lawbook we’ve taken a couple of our fall fishing regulations that apply to a lot of waters, combined them into one and all those waters now are going to be open October, November and December to essentially catch and release for salmonids. All we’re proposing is that we add Sebago to that list. Francis would explain.

Mr. Brautigam stated there had been a lot going on with Sebago in terms of fisheries management. Sebago Lake was recently identified as a classic salmon water. That prompted efforts to try to redevelop a quality salmon fishery back in Sebago. In the last 4-5 years there had been a number of initiatives undertaken and resulted in successful improvements in the lake fishery. Public involvement was sought in some of the decision making about what we wanted to establish for goals in trying to achieve the classic salmon designation. Essentially, we’re trying to produce a lake that supported a larger number and size salmon.

Since last spring Mr. Brautigam had put together a draft management plan for Sebago Lake, really focusing on salmon restoration. The plan was reviewed internally and the next step in the process had been going out and meeting with area clubs, soliciting input from them. We had input provided by several different groups, Trout Unlimited, Windham/Gorham Rod & Gun Club, Sebago Lake Anglers Association (SLAA), etc. Shortly, the draft plan would be posted on the website in an effort to get public input. As the plan was being developed Mr. Brautigam did have meetings and conversations with area groups, particularly Sebago Lake Anglers Association. We had gotten several requests for regulation changes in response to the new draft management plan that would help us get from where we are to where we wanted to be. One of the rule changes involved trying to create additional opportunities to harvest lake trout from Sebago Lake. The reason that was important was the only way we would be successful in producing an abundance of larger size salmon in Sebago Lake is to maximize the smelt population in that lake.

Unfortunately, the lake also supports a very robust population of lake trout which are heavy predators on smelt. We need to look at ways of reducing the lake trout population. In working with SLAA we thought we could come up with a rule change that would allow for additional harvest opportunities by allowing folks to go out in October, November and December and harvest lake trout. The proposal as it stands in some respects in consistent with the current fall fishing provision. Except now during the months of October, November and December you will be able to harvest lake trout and only lake trout. Now that we have a draft plan that’s fairly well embraced, at least based on comments to date, we feel the proposed change is consistent with our goals to reduce the lake trout population. The proposed rule change would be presented at the upcoming SLAA meeting which would be open to the public.

Council Member Questions and Comments

Mrs. Oldham asked why there was a slot limit?

Mr. Brautigam stated a number of years ago when we were looking at ways of trying to increase harvest opportunities on lake trout we had a public informational meeting to discuss the proposal. At that time we were looking at a higher bag limit and maybe not having a slot limit. We had a lot of togue anglers that showed up and there was a lot of concern if we opened it up too much that it would result in an overharvest situation where a lot of the larger size lake trout would be removed. At that time, the slot limit was intended to limit the harvest of larger size lake trout while at the same time allowing for an increased harvest of the smaller size lake trout.

Mrs. Oldham asked if there were other examples of a trophy salmon fishery and a good togue fishery at the same time?

Mr. Brautigam stated in the southern part of the state Lake Auburn was a really good example. There were a few other lakes where they had some limited success. It was hard to maintain a sustainable fishery where you had both a quality salmon and togue fishery. The problem with Sebago, in some respects, it was a better togue lake than a salmon lake.

Mr. Savage asked about dropping the minimum length.

Mr. Brautigam stated there was talk about that. That would probably be discussed as more public input was received.

Commissioner Martin stated he had seen a letter in opposition to the initiative. He wasn’t sure if there was a “wealth” of opposition, but if there was, we may have to hold a public hearing. We were not planning on scheduling one, but would wait to hear what the outcome was at the public informational meeting.

Mr. Brautigam stated several years ago we were approached with a request to open Sebago Lake up in the fall and we did not go through with it back then. We did not have a formal management plan in place to review the merit of that and there were some concern that folks might be targeting salmon in the fall. The intent of the regulation change is to increase lake trout harvest. The proposal to increase lake trout harvest was more important than protecting a few salmon at this point. If after we implement the regulation change and identify that there are problems with salmon being targeted or there’s a result of higher salmon mortality, that’s not anticipated, but if it happens we would certainly make further adjustments.

Mr. Savage stated he was assuming that during that 3 month period it would be no live bait.

Mr. Brautigam stated that was not how it was worded. We were trying to keep the regulation consistent with what we had for the fall regulation for the County.

Mr. Allen from the SLAA discussed what the Association’s process had been. They had been working very closely with staff out of the regional headquarters in Gray. Their internal process had been to discuss this through the Board of Directors and then present it to their membership in two different ways. They sent out the information as part of their goals in their monthly newsletter and asked for comments. It was also discussed at great length at monthly meetings. They hadn’t had any real objections from their membership consisting of about 150 members. There were a couple of concerns that salmon might be targeted inadvertently. When it was voted on at 3 different meetings the members present voted unanimously that they support the recommendation and work with the Department.

Mr. Savage asked what was meant by “targeting salmon?”

Mr. Allen stated there were some concerns whether or not some individuals might go out after togue and actually go after salmon.

Mr. Corson stated that Mr. Brautigam had mentioned keeping the fall fishing regulations the same as they were in southern Maine. He was under the impression that almost all of the waters that were open in the fall were ALO, with the exception of warm water fisheries.

Mr. Boland stated the waters right now, there was an S-23 regulation applied statewide, there was an S-24 regulation that allowed October and November fishing which was not ALO. In 7 or 8 counties in southern and central Maine for many years now it had been open in October and November and it had not been restricted to ALO.

Mr. Corson commented on the targeting of salmon. There was nothing in there that prohibited someone from targeting salmon, correct? We were opening up a fall fishery that had some pretty good salmon fishing, the salmon congregate and move along the shoreline to go to spawning areas. We would certainly see some people fly fishing for those fish…why wouldn’t they? There was a catch and release regulation on them anyway. We weren’t saying anything to discourage people from targeting those fish.

Mr. Brautigam stated if there was a way to do that that was enforceable, there probably would be something in there. Again, we thought it was of greater importance to reduce the lake trout population than it was to perhaps lose a few salmon due to handling mortality.

2. Whitewater Rafting – Order of Launch, Insurance Requirements, First Aid & CPR Certification

Warden Allarie stated the first part was based on Chapter 14 of the rules and dealt with prerequisites for applicants for whitewater guide license reference CPR. Maryann Foye in the Licensing Division for the past couple of years had received a lot of online CPR and First Aid training certifications. We had never really addressed that to see if it met our standards. Warden Allarie and the Advisory Board for the Licensing of Whitewater Guides looked at the issue and took some of the tests online. The tests did not meet or even come close to the training standards that we would like to see. We looked at how we could make standards for the new applicants that were fair and practical (see proposal). We were really looking for hands on training for these guides, especially with the inherent risk in the business. The same for Trip Leaders; we would leave everything the same but just online certification courses would not be accepted.

Mr. Witte stated being a firefighter, they were mandated to do that once a year. There was an opportunity for people; they allowed the public as long as they preregistered, to attend those classes.

Warden Allarie stated the other section was additional requirements and restrictions concerning liability insurance. Originally it stated that a commercial outfitter had to show proof of liability insurance for general operations and automobile coverage in the amount of $500,000 for each. They had to show the Department proof of this prior to the first commercial trip or training run. The Department felt if they were to hold a license to provide service, proof of liability insurance should be required upon application.

Mr. Witte asked if for some reason that insurance was suspended or revoked, would the Department be notified of that?

Warden Allarie stated no, the only time he would get that is if they received non payment, the insurance company typically sends MaryAnn Foye notice that their insurance had been suspended.

Mr. Witte stated that was not a mandated request, they did that out of courtesy.

Warden Allarie stated the Department wanted to know upon application that these commercial outfitters had insurance.

Warden Allarie discussed the order of launch. Order of launch was for the Kennebec River, the upper half and also the West Branch of the Penobscot. The order of launch was established based on seniority to provide a systematic approach of releasing commercial passengers. It was based on years of continuous service. He eliminated the outfitters that no longer provided service (see proposal).

Warden Allarie stated the only other change was the West Branch of the Penobscot, McKay Station. One of the outfitters that held the spot on the Kennebec also held the number 1 spot on the West Branch. That was Homestead Adventures, they no longer provide service so he eliminated them. He put out a bidding process to all the outfitters and based on seniority, North Country Rivers would be awarded the first spot based on their years of continuous service.

Mrs. Oldham asked about the bidding process.

Warden Allarie stated he had to put out a request to all the outfitters that if they were interested in the spot it would be awarded to the licensed outfitter that had seniority. Only 2 outfitters submitted a request. It was not really a bidding process, there was no money involved.

Mr. Clark stated on the West Branch of the Sourdnahunk, the number 4 slot was vacant. Was there a way to move the 5-8 up or would it continue to stay vacant?

Warden Allarie stated he asked North Country Rivers and they were not interested. They were running both sections. He had asked if others were interested in the slot and they were not.

Mr. Clark stated on the commercial trips, how many outfitters ran both sections, Sourdnahunk and also McKay?

Warden Allarie stated at least 5.

Mr. Clark stated on the launch order on the Kennebec he assumed the water released at Harris Station, had we had any problems with Brookfield Power on the West Branch?

Warden Allarie stated no. He did not have much contact with them. He had invited them to some of his meetings and had not received a response.

Commissioner Martin stated he noticed in the letter to the Deputy Commissioner that the Advisory Board had signed off on the proposal, and it was their recommendation.

Warden Allarie stated that was correct. Eight members attended a meeting in November and they all agreed on the proposal.

V. Other Business

1. Smelt management

Mr. Boland gave a brief introduction and Mr. Pellerin discussed the items in the handout (see packet).

Council Member Questions and Comments

Mrs. Oldham asked if the Department was doing any kind of research for such an important fish?

Mr. Pellerin stated there was some proposed, but the problem was there was no set individual. He was the species author but he worked along with Francis for all the management in Region A as well as several other species. He felt you would almost need an individual to do that. Years ago, Mr. Rupp was doing a lot of research. Money and staff were real issues.

Deputy Commissioner Jacques stated probably not much had changed in the Rupp Report. He would send copies to the Advisory Council members.

Mr. Savage commented on the lack of control of the many environmental factors that impact abundance. He was interested in what environmental factors actually created smelt abundance?

Mr. Pellerin stated his biggest example would be spring flooding. NH had shown a pretty strong correlation between high spring run off years and high snow melt years of a strong year for smelt following those years. The theory is that with those years you get a lot of nutrium runoff in the lake and it sets up the plankton base for the year.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

There were no public comments or questions.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, February 20, 2008 at 9:30 a.m. at the IF&W Augusta Headquarters.

IX. Adjournment

Mrs. Oldham motioned to adjourn the meeting and Mr. Witte seconded that. The meeting was adjourned at 12:00 p.m.