Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

June 15, 2013 @ 10:00 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
18 Village Street, Greenville

Attending:       Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Acting Director Bureau of Resource Management
Doug Rafferty, Director of Information and Education
Mike Brown, Fisheries Division Director
Bob Stratton, Supervisor of Fisheries and Wildlife Support Division
Judy Camuso, Acting Wildlife Division Director
Glen Annis, Game Warden Sergeant
Bill Chandler, Game Warden
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Jeff Lewis, Chair
Cathy DeMerchant
Bos Savage
Sheridan Oldham       
Gunnar Gundersen
Lance Wheaton, Vice Chair
Dick Thurston
Dick Fortier
Don Dudley
Lila Ware

Gary Corson
Judy Finley
Scott Smith
Brian Cogill, President, Maine Trappers Association
Bob Weisman, Maine Trappers Association

I.  Call to Order

Jeff Lewis, Council Chair, called the meeting to order.

II.  Introductions

Introductions were made.

III.  Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and seconded by Mr. Thurston to accept the Council minutes for the last meeting. 

Vote:  unanimous – minutes accepted.

IV.  Rulemaking

A.  Step 3

1.  2013 Any-deer permits

Mr. Connolly stated we had added permits back in a couple areas in the north and west that hadn’t had permits for a while.  That would trigger the youth hunt to be either sex in those areas.  That was a positive thing for those that were concerned about that opportunity for youth hunting.  Archery hunters would be able to harvest any deer also as that was limited when there were no permits being issued.

A motion was made by Mr. Thurston and seconded by Mrs. DeMerchant to accept the proposal as presented. 

Vote:  unanimous – motion passed.

B.  Step 2

1.  Moose Hunting – Add WMD 19 to November season

Mr. Connolly stated this was an oversight.  We had included this in the materials that were presented when rulemaking was done for moose permit allocations, but failed to insert the WMD when the regulation was pulled together. 

A motion was made by Mrs. Oldham to move the agenda item to Step 3 for a vote.  That was seconded by Mr. Thurston.

Vote:  unanimous – agenda item moved to Step 3.

Mr. Fortier asked what the moose population was in WMD 19.

Mr. Connolly stated he did not have a population number for that specific area.  When we estimate the population it was a range.  We managed in reference to that with our goals and objectives.

A motion was made by Mr. Savage and seconded by Mrs. Ware to accept the proposal as presented.

Vote:  unanimous – motion passed

            C.  Step 1

1.  2013-14 Furbearer Seasons/Regulations/Beaver Closures

Mr. Connolly stated there were three different areas for the trapping proposals.  The beaver type traps, a proposal to have a clarification in the language.  It was always the intent on killer type traps that they be under water.  What we had was a need to provide a clarification.  There was an issue with law enforcement in terms of being able to go forth with a case but also from the standpoint of our incidental take permit application for the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the incidental take of lynx.  Right now we had protection under the consent decree to settle that issue until we got our incidental take permit.  That allowance for killer type traps in those WMDs where there were lynx was that killer type traps would be under water for beaver.  They would not be out where they would be exposed to lynx.  This proposal was to address the ITP requirement, the consent decree and the permit to come, and to have a clarification so we could prosecute those egregious violators.  Warden Service was willing to work with the Maine Trappers Association to review that and develop an enforcement policy that was reasonable.

The fisher proposal was a response to address a concern about the fisher population in southern and coastal Maine.  In our furbearer management systems we looked at the harvest, but the harvest didn’t really mean anything unless we had some sense of the effort.  We needed to understand how many trappers were out there trying to catch those animals.  If there were changes in the effort, that could indicate issues with the population and they tracked that over a period of time.  They found there was a steady decline.  We had also received feedback from trappers directly there was a concern about fisher in that area.  Why should we be concerned about fisher in Southern and Coastal Maine?  Were we trying to increase the fisher population in and around houses?  What was the concern?  Fisher performed a valuable function, they ate squirrels and rodents and took care of porcupines as well.  We were not trying to increase the population, we were trying to stabilize it in that part of the state.  It was appropriate to have fisher at a level that would persist to have trappers be able to trap fisher as well.  Fisher were a valuable fur resource for Maine trappers.  The proposal would move the trapping season so it would start a little later.  It would better line up with when the fur was prime and shorten the season.  There was also a provision in the proposal that in those WMDs where the season was shortened, and if there was an incidental catch of fisher outside of that timeframe, the trapper would turn that in.  This was an effort to stabilize the population and we would track that over time. 

Mrs. DeMerchant asked if we were considering a sunset provision.

Mr. Connolly stated it would be in effect but we reviewed regulations for furbearers annually, so changes could be made on a yearly basis.

Mr. Connolly stated teeth on traps was really a technical interpretation.  It came up in relation to the ITP and the ban but also as a part of that we went back and looked at the law and there had been a parsing of words in terms of auxiliary teeth and manufactured teeth on traps that were set on land.  The proposal would address teeth on traps that were set on land.  This would not prohibit the use of traps with teeth that were set in the water and remained under water that were useful in beaver trapping.  We were trying to address an issue where in law there was a wording that would make you think that there should be a difference between the ban on auxiliary teeth and traps manufactured with teeth.  The law was clear in one section that there was no difference, that should have been prohibited.  The proposal was that on land you would not have traps with teeth on it.  It would be clear and it would be statewide.  It would continue to allow those traps to be used in water sets where they were useful in holding the animal to be able to have that trap function effectively and where they were in the water and not exposed to lynx.  We were trying to make consistent the law and the rule.

2.  2013-14 Migratory Bird Season

Mr. Connolly stated the proposal was that things would stay pretty much the same except that there was an increase in the resident goose bag limit from 8 to 10 per day in the southern and coastal zones.  Under the Federal framework we could go as high as 15.  We did not propose any change in the north zone, there had been no interest in doing that.  In the south and coastal zones there was an interest in seeing that increase that also mirrored the area where we’ve had problems with geese and landowners.  This was targeted towards those resident geese.  In any of our season frameworks a big part of making adjustments was to use licensed hunters, trappers and anglers to manage the resource and try and use any opportunity we had where we had a problem where we needed to have additional pressure was to try and resolve that by liberalizing the seasons or working with those participants to make that opportunity available to somebody that was buying a license.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated the process for this proposal was different from others.  Because we worked under the Federal framework to set the seasons, the proposal would show a disclaimer that it was subject to Federal guidelines.  If something were to change there we would have to change the season dates we put forward.  Also, because we had to file the regulation with the Feds by a certain deadline, there was a statute that stated we did not have to comply with the 10-day comment period after a public hearing for migratory bird.  The Waterfowl Council would meet the day of the public hearing and following the public hearing the Waterfowl Council would reconvene, make a recommendation and the Advisory Council would meet the following day and provide consent.

Mr. Connolly stated the meeting with the Flyway Council would occur in July.  There was a technical session and a general session.  Migratory birds were managed on a flyway basis so the Fish and Wildlife Service was inputting data from banding efforts.  There was some flexibility when you had resident birds such as Canada geese, and then when you had birds that were moving through the flyway we had to look at the impacts of other states harvests as well as our own.

3.  Fall turkey season 2013

Mr. Connolly stated this was an interesting legislative session with many bills focusing on turkeys.  It was an example to biologists to be aware that they needed to be more sensitive in terms of what the public concerns were.  The bills were oriented towards eliminating the permit requirement, opening the season up, eliminating the bag limits, etc.  It was interesting from a Department standpoint that things had gotten to the point where people were so frustrated that they went to the legislature and advocated a strong position in doing something about it.  The legislative committee gave the Department the opportunity to reassemble the turkey working group which included representatives of some of the key industries (agriculture, orchards, guides, etc.) to participate and look at turkey issues and come up with a proposal that would increase opportunity, increase bag limits but retain the Department’s authority to manage and react to things appropriately around the state.  There were differences in the turkey population in southern, central and northern Maine. 

Mr. Connolly discussed the proposed statutory changes (see packet.)  The tagging fee was discussed, people felt $5 was too much to pay.  From the Department’s perspective, being able to track where turkeys were taken and understand the age/sex structure was important.  We had technical working groups where representatives from Maine participated with other biologists up and down the east coast, and other states that eliminated tagging requirements had regretted it.  They had lost control of what the harvest was and had not been able to respond to changes in the population.  The Department and the working group proposed to the Legislature to not eliminate the tagging fee, but drop it down to the portion that was retained by the tagging agent.  The Department would forego the $3 and allow the store to retain the $2.  The last concern was hunting hours.  Originally the premise was put forth that we were protecting hens by having hunting hours that ended at noon.  Another issue was landowner concerns in terms of having people in the spring not on the landscape hunting and hunting in the afternoon when they would be home from work and wanting to spend time in their yards.  The Legislature felt that in order to increase opportunity there ought to be a full day hunt and that the Department put that forth.  There were a number of other changes they wanted the Department to make in terms of the turkey season.  We asked to make those changes in rule so that we would have the ability over time to make adjustments as we recognized changes in the population. 

Ms. Camuso stated there were two maps in the packet, one for spring and one for fall proposed changes.  There were recommendations that the Department brought forward that were arrived at through the turkey working group with input from the Department.  The first big change would be that we were proposing in the spring to open all WMDs to a spring harvest.  That would be for 2 bearded birds in the southern part of the state.  In the northern part of the state they would have a 1 bird limit.  We would also be looking to allow crossbows in addition to bow and arrow or shotgun as a viable method of hunting during the spring as well.  The all-day youth hunt in the spring would take place on the Saturday prior to opening day of the spring harvest.  The Committee felt that the turkey season as it currently was timed to allow the hens to be bred so that by the time turkey season started the majority of hens were sitting on eggs.  We didn’t want people disrupting that process.  That was consistent throughout the northeast.  We didn’t want to adjust the season dates at this point. 

Ms. Camuso stated harvesting males only would have little impact on the population, the fall season was our opportunity to do some population control in targeted areas to try and bring the population down.  What we put forward was to have certain WMDs have a 2 bird limit in the fall, and expanding the turkey season in the fall.  We were putting forward for areas that were open in the fall; the fall season would coincide with the archery season for deer so it would be a full month of turkey hunting in the fall and also open up the entire season to shotgun as well.  There was conflicting legislation for crossbows.  The Council would be informed at Step 2 regarding crossbows.  We would be holding public hearings on the changes, and a public outreach process had begun with Department of Agriculture and Warden Service to make sure farmers had the tools they needed to address turkey issues.  Prior to next spring we would also do some public outreach in the northern zones to make people aware there would be turkey hunting there.  Fall turkey hunting hours would remain ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.  We would look at this in no less than 2 years to assess management goals and objectives.

4.  Big Clemons Pond, Hiram horsepower petition

Deputy Commissioner Erskine discussed the rulemaking process and how the public may petition the Department for a rule change regarding horsepower restrictions on certain bodies of water.  We would be holding a public hearing in Hiram and would report back to the Council.

5.  Fishing regulations 2014

Mr. Brown stated there would be 5 public hearing locations to discuss the packet of changes.  The packet was broken down into 3 sections; statewide changes, housekeeping and specific proposals by region.  Mr. Brown gave some highlights of the proposals…

- Elimination of the artificial lures requirement during April – June for the bass season.  This was originally set up to protect bass while they were spawning.  Unfortunately with the type of lures that were available now that were so close to natural baits we didn’t feel that there was any additional protection.  This was also a hard regulation for warden service to enforce.

-  Youth fishing waters, we had some response from the public about a need to have some of these waters opened up to folks that had additional disabilities.  If there were individuals that were handicapped and then turned from 16 to 17 they technically couldn’t go to the places they’d fished before.  We felt it was important to provide that sort of opportunity to folks that were handicapped or met the complimentary license holder requirements.

- Southern and eastern counties, open up all the waters in the southern and eastern parts of the state to fishing unless stated otherwise in the law book.  There were 3 things that we proposed you could do as exceptions to the general law.  It was generally to take what we have for resources, maximize the fishing opportunity while protecting some of our wild trout resources.  There would be 3 different tiers.  Especially where we had a lot of spawning of wild fish there wouldn’t be any fishing from October to December.  For locations we have put and grow there would be ALO, catch and release.  The third would be to provide opportunity for early ice anglers in December to go to their local pond that had stocked brook trout, salmon or brown trout and be able to take one home. 

-  We were looking to optimize the chances for people to go out and enjoy fishing in Maine.  We had new kids fishing opportunity in Region B.  The Boothbay Fish and Game Club had a pond they would open up to ice fishing for kids during the month of February.

- We were looking to provide year round salmon fishing in sections of the Fish River in Region G and Spokane Stream. 

- We were looking to increase harvest opportunities in April for the Moose River, Moosehead Lake and East Outlet.  We would like to roll back that May 1 opening to April 1 so if there was early ice out people would have a chance to go fishing.

- Richardson Lakes, fall fishing opportunities there.  It was high up on the list of places stocked by the Department.  We wanted people to fish there October 1 – October 31. 

 - As always, we did have an increasing number of waters that had bass introductions so there would be some S-13 rules included.  We were also looking to liberalize lake trout regulations of some waters down east.  We were having a hard time in some areas controlling lake trout populations and were looking for ways to increase fishing pressure.  We were removing the length and bag limit on some of the waters and providing a protection slot which we hoped would provide some biological control by larger fish on smaller fish.

-  We had selected 2 waters down east to try to grow some larger salmon.  We hoped to provide opportunity for those wishing to catch a salmon in excess of 5 lbs.  We did not have a lot of waters where we could do that and this was a good opportunity to try and grow some of those larger fish. 

On the Magalloway we were looking for a catch and release section and going to barbless hooks for the region below the Azicohos Dam.  We had a number of new surveys in Region E and D where we found new brook trout populations.  Those waters would go to S-4.  They would also see some waters that were closed to the harvest of bait.  The way recreational bait trapping worked was if a water was open for fishing you could go there and trap bait with your recreational fishing license.  If the water was closed to fishing you could not go there to trap bait unless you had a permit from a warden or from a biologist.  The southern regions specifically received a lot of requests to harvest bait in waters that were closed.  Unfortunately, there were some waters where we did not want people trapping bait.  Those would be waters where we had muskie or waters where we were doing reclamation.  We would be doing away with the bait permit system.  If you wanted to trap bait with a recreational fishing license and it was not closed to the trapping of bait in the law book you were all set.

Mr. Brown stated he did want to comment on one other issue.  There had been some discussion of muskie in the West Branch of the Penobscot.  The Department had electrofished the location where the muskie was reported and we did not locate any muskie.  We also confirmed that there was no connection to the West Branch and the location where the muskie may have come from.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Oldham stated given some of the legislation, she knew they were worried about plastic baits and Mr. Brown had referred to the technology of fishing lures.  She thought the Department should look at the actual definition of artificial lures and flies.  If you looked at the Berkley gulp bait and power bait if your read the packaging and the law book it would be hard to say you could not use those in ALO waters.  It was not clear what was legal and what was not.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the gulp bait had become the focus of some discussions within the Department.  That was an ongoing issue, as bait evolved we would reexamine on a regular basis.

Mr. Wheaton stated he saw Spednik Lake in the proposals.  When we had a catch and release lake, he did not know the purpose for going to 2 lines.  I f they were going to catch fish and release them, why did we want to go to 2 lines so they could kill more or catch more or handle more?

Mr. Brown stated we had a request to make all the border waters the same, so instead of 1 line they would all go to 2 lines.

V.  Other Business

1.  Trapping of Otter

Mr. Connolly stated otters continued to be an issue for furbearers in terms of our concerns.  We were still continuing to have an over harvest of otters in some areas.  The problem was that harvest was occurring during the beaver season.  We were averaging about 33% of the otter harvest and it was during the closed season for otters.  It was occurring in the spring time when people were beaver trapping.  Part of it was that we had extended the beaver trapping season in fairness to the trappers, and we’d tried to utilize them to extend the beaver seasons to address our beaver population.  That had exposed otters to additional pressure and increased the catch.  We were also adjusting setbacks from dams and houses in order to address the beaver problem.  Otters were particularly susceptible as they moved across beaver dams to being caught as well.  It had become an issue of how to address that, we had brought forth a way to address that last year in adjusting the sets and that was unacceptable to some.  There were ways in terms of limiting the length of the season to address that, but then you began to restrict what we wanted which was the beaver harvest as well. 

Mr. Connolly stated originally there had been some discussion of moving forward with a proposal to not allow trappers to keep the otter they took in the spring season.  There were some comments that would cause people to take the otter anyway and just discard it instead of turning it in.  There was some information put forth on the part of responsible trappers that said they were not targeting them, but when they did get an otter the money they got from it actually supported them and their overall trapping.  We were trying to maximize the take of beaver and push that season when pelts were still prime, but we were concerned about the otter harvest as well. 

Mr. Connolly stated we had gotten into a big discussion about the sex of the incidental catch of otter.  Some would say we didn’t know whether they were males or females, it didn’t matter if they were males because we had surplus males so if the harvest was all males anyway, who cared?  It wouldn’t impact the population.  If we didn’t have the information to show the trappers one way or the other, we shouldn’t do anything.  The fact was, we had researchers and there were studies done elsewhere and as unique as we would like to think Maine was, there were some studies to the east that showed that harvest ratio should be about 50/50.  What would happen if it wasn’t 50/50 and it was all males?  That would also be cause for concern because, where were the females?  The fact was we had 1/3 of the harvest occurring during the time that the season was closed on otter, that was significant.  It was only occurring in part of the state.  Enforcement was an issue as far as areas where you could keep otter or couldn’t keep otter.  There were also some issues in terms of pelts, determining males from females clearly. 

Mr. Connolly stated this was a challenging problem.  We were reaching out to the MTA to find a balance.  We were not at a point to move forward with rulemaking.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Savage asked if it would make sense to reduce the fall season so in the end the total number of otters taken was what we wanted?

Mr. Connolly stated he was not sure if that had been considered.  The other problem was that we also had beaver trapping that started in November/December and if we were going to do anything to restrict otter we would run into the same problem but on the other end as well.  We would be doing more research and come back with an updated proposal in the future.

Mrs. Ware asked about the over harvest and where it was occurring.

Ms. Camuso stated central Maine.

Mr. Connolly stated in the springtime when the water was opening up, that was an area of the state where we would really have a transition.  We still had a lot of wild area in central Maine, the ice conditions changing, otters on the move and they were susceptible.  We were also trying to manage that beaver population and provide opportunity to address that as well.  If you were beaver trapping in effect you could be otter trapping.

Commissioner Woodcock stated we had met with MTA and it was decided to take otter out of the proposal.  We felt we were lacking in some information and did not feel we were at a point yet where we were comfortable with what we could propose.  We would take that as a task for future consideration.

Mr. Dudley stated in the springtime they were not trapping beaver ponds, they were trapping flows, streams, rivers, etc.  The animals were traveling and it was a different scenario than in the winter.  Winter was not a problem, you wouldn’t catch a lot of otter because then they had to be in a live beaver flowage.  In the springtime, there may be no beaver sign and you would catch beaver and occasionally you would catch an otter.  There were ways the trappers could get together and find ways of making sets that were less productive by not catching the otters.  

Mrs. Oldham stated we tried to manage the entire state, which had very different ecosystems within it under the same season regulations.  The difference between northern and southern Maine in terms of its climate was significant.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the difference in this discussion in relation to others was the value in terms of pocketbook.  That wasn’t always true with other species.  As the price of fur went up, there were more people in the arena.

Ms. Camuso stated current price for beaver pelt was $35 and $120 for otter.  We did worry there were people trying to take advantage of the increase in price for otter.  We were trying to come up with a way; if there wasn’t that financial incentive for the $120 otter if they couldn’t keep it then perhaps they would alter their sets so that they wouldn’t be catching non target animals.

VI.  Councilor Reports

Council members gave reports.

VII.  Public Comments & Questions

Brian Cogill – Mr. Savage may be getting some calls, we started a new chapter over in Porter/Kezar Falls area and I gave them your number to call with questions.  I think Don commented on during the springtime its like you being cooped up in your house all winter long.  As soon as spring breaks everyone busts out and goes everywhere, and that’s what happens with the beaver population.  It just happens to coincide with the otter trapping and since the seasons have gotten so much longer you’re bound to pick up an otter.  I have been reading rules and regulations in different states and what they’re doing and we’re going try and bring some of it to the board and see what happens.

Bob Weisman – I am the Director for the Maine Trappers Association but I’d like to take that hat off and speak on behalf of the phone calls that I’ve gotten from non-members.  On the issue of fisher, there’s been a big change.  I’ve trapped continuously for 50 years on fisher.  I’ve seen drastic changes.  When we first started out in the early 60’s two trappers could harvest 100 fisher and it went on a few years that way.  It started going down in the 70’s and 80’s, 35 to 40 fisher for long liners.  The kits seemed to be consistent.  The season of November 15 – December 15, it just doesn’t seem practical.  You’re trapping in country that going to be heavily trapped for marten.  Marten and fisher coincide, you never know when you go to a trap if you’re going to have a fisher or a marten.  I have not found a way to keep one out or the other.  If you’re starting the season south of the Golden Road, the proposal the Department is making WMDs 7, 8, 14 and 17.  17 used to be the heart of the fisher country.  A lot of the woodlands have been cut and the fisher are moving.  I don’t understand how the Department is coming up with a count on what we have.  They’re going by the trap records.  Nobody is really trapping fisher anymore long line.  Loss of land, we’ve lost a tremendous amount of land.  No trespassing signs.  The new methods of harvesting wood today they’re not even leaving the bridges in.  They’re removing the bridges and transferring them to another plot where they’re going to harvest. That restricts everybody to the road systems in the north country.  The price of fuel, it’s just not cost effective.  Tending laws have changes.  It used to be a 7-day tend now in organized we have 3-day, unorganized 5.  Low fisher prices, in the 70’s and 80’s I was getting $180 - $190 for a female fisher, males a little over $100.  For the last few years, up until this last fur sale you were lucky to average $50 for your fisher.  These are all factors that I don’t think people realize.  Restricted catch limit came along.  They thought we were harvesting too many fisher so they put it down to a 10 fisher limit.  Now they want to restrict us more.  I don’t mind cutting back the season because when we were making these big catches it was all the month of November.  In the north country your roads are freezing, we had so many beaver problems that you cannot go 15 or 20 miles on a road system without running into a flowage that’s freezing.  It restricts you from going any further.  You take through the first part of December to the last part of December given different years you’re faced with that problem.  You get a lot of restrictions up there and that’s going to stop people from trapping.  The only trappers we really have up there now are recreational trappers.  This is keeping the count down.  Preliminary fisher of 1184 for 2012 and 2013.  They’re basing their fisher population on these figures and it’s so erroneous.  I wish there was another method they would use for studying how many fisher we actually have in the country. 

VIII.  Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for August 15, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. at Cabela’s in Scarborough.

IX.  Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. Oldham and that was seconded by Mr. Savage to adjourn the meeting.  The meeting was adjourned at 1:00 p.m.