Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

November 29, 2011 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
Upstairs Conference Room
284 State Street, Augusta, ME

Attending:      

Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
John Boland, Director, Bureau of Resource

Management:

Jim Connolly, Acting Wildlife Division Director
Mark Latti, Recreational Access and Landowner

Relations Coordinator:
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:        
                       
Steve Philbrick, Chair
Cathy DeMerchant, Vice-Chair
Bos Savage
Mike Witte
Dick Thurston
Lance Wheaton
Jeff Lewis
Wade Kelly

Guests:    
                       
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Kevin O’Brien, Brunswick
Fern Bosse, Norway/Paris Fish & Game
Steve Tobin, Norway/Paris Fish & Game
Greg Lapeakas, Brunswick
Dennis Smith
Don Kleiner, MPGA  

I. Call to Order
                       
Steve Philbrick, Council Chair, called the meeting to order.

II. Introductions

Introductions were made.

III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting

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

Vote:  unanimous – minutes accepted.

IV. Rulemaking

            A.  Step 3

1. Spring Turkey Season

Mr. Connolly stated this was to create a generic framework for the spring turkey season so that we wouldn’t have to go through rulemaking each time.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated no public comments had been received.

Motion made by Mrs. DeMerchant and seconded by Mr. Witte to accept the proposal as presented.

Vote:  Unanimous – motion passed.

            B.  Step 2

1. Fishing Regulation Changes

Mr. Boland stated 5 public hearings were held around the state and were some of the best and most engaging hearings we had had in years.  The Commissioner started a process at the hearings that after public comments had been received, he would open it up to questions and just discussing fish and wildlife in general.  That was well received. 

Mr. Boland stated we received comments not only at the hearings, but a lot in writing.  Most of them in favor, but some contentious.  In a summary of written comments there were 112 received on about 12 to 15 waters and some comments were based on groups of proposals ie: the effort to eliminate the use of live bait on wild trout ponds that were already closed to ice fishing.  We had 24 comments come in on that, all in favor and none opposed. 

Mr. Boland discussed proposals that based on some of the comments we were considering modifying.  We had some written comments on the Fish River proposal, 8 against and none in favor.  That was a proposal up in the Fish River lakes area, the lakes were already a liberal bag and length limit on salmon, 3 fish, 12” because of an over population of salmon.  The stream currently had fairly restrictive regulations and Dave Basley wanted to make them consistent with the lake and encourage more harvest in the stream to reduce the population.  Mr. Basley proposed to extend the 3 fish, 12” for salmon into the river.  We heard support for the concept, but opposition based on the fact that they could then legally catch 3 fish of any size.  We did see a lot of correspondence and photos of salmon that would be in the 3 – 6 pound range.  We were considering keeping the 3 fish, 12” limit but only allowing 1 fish over 16”.  We felt that would protect the larger fish, and still encourage the harvest of the smaller 12” – 16”salmon.

Bemis Stream is a small trout stream that flows into Mooselookmeguntic.  Law enforcement had noticed a concentration of spawning trout below a culvert below a bridge and they were concerned there was undue pressure on the fish in late September.  It was already C&R, FFO and there was a proposal to close that after September 15.  There had been a lot of discussion and the Department decided there was not enough biological information and scant anecdotal information so we would be pulling that proposal.  We would like to work with Dave Boucher’s region and possibly launch a study into the wild brook trout population at Mooselookmeguntic Lake.  It was discussed at the Rangeley public hearing and a member of the audience commented it would be a good water for us to take a look at.

Little Wilson Pond, the most comments had been received on this proposal.  It was a small pond in Turner.  There is no public access so no stocking and a population of yellow perch and bass.  There was a proposal to open the pond to ice fishing.  A lot of opposition from the camp owners and the lake front owners around the water and also some support from area ice fishermen.  The Department would like to open it to ice fishing with a 1 year sunset and have the Warden Service and biological staff keep an eye on it and see how things go for year. 

Mr. Thurston asked if the Great Ponds Act came into play on that body of water.  Were people allowed to go there if they walked?

Mr. Boland stated they could access the water across unimproved property.  Most of the discussion was based upon “their private pond”.

Mr. Witte stated it was a bass and perch pond.  The number of people that would fish the pond would be small.  There was also the implication at the hearing that ice fishermen were a bunch of criminals.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there had been a lot of discussion around Little Wilson Pond.  Discussion seemed to center on an enforcement issue more than it did actually the fishing portion.  We decided to take a look at it over a year’s time and then make adjustments if necessary.  What was expressed about the fishing portion of it actually was for kids.  People wanted to be able to take their kids, grandkids there ice fishing.

Mr. Witte stated was there not a petition received from that individual with 125 signatures that were in favor of opening it to ice fishing?

Commissioner Woodcock stated yes.

Mr. Boland discussed the Stanley Brook proposal.  It’s a brook on Mt. Desert Island where the Department had partnered with the USFWS and UME Orono extension to study sea run brook trout.  About 3 years ago we closed it to fishing so that they could undertake the study and pit tags and recorders along the stream to monitor the sea run trout.  There was a sunset provision to go back to general law at the end of this past season.  Those running the study would like to extend it so that they could continue the study further and we’ve proposed to extend the closing for one more year.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked if we were going to add a sunset provision.

Mr. Boland stated yes.

Henderson Pond – A little wild trout pond up in Piscataquis County and for a number of years has had a 2 trout limit.  The pond had become overpopulated and stunted so the growth was not there.  There were some complaints from some that fished the pond and the biologists agreed.  The division proposed to go back to 5 fish, 6” which is general law in that area to kind of thin the fish out and stimulate better growth.  It was discussed at the hearing and also in writing that we consider the S-20 regulation, 5 fish, 6” but anything over 12” had to be released.  We supported that and recommend 5 fish, 6” but nothing over 12”.

Sourdnahunk Stream – The Enfield regional fisheries staff met with Baxter Park and Sourdnahunk Stream is FFO.  There was a small section of it the Park was interested in encouraging more youth participation.  Sometimes the campers were not equipped to go fly fishing so they arrived at a recommendation to continue to restrict it to the use of flies, but allow them to use spinning gear to cast flies.  There were some comments in opposition to that.  We were trying to streamline the law book and make it as simple as we could, and some thought the regulation would be too confusing.  We support the effort to encourage youth participation and there are a lot of kids at the campgrounds that have spinning gear so we would recommend to make that section of the stream ALO.  The rest of the stream would continue to be FFO.

Mr. Savage stated he wanted to be clear how that worked, casting a fly with a spinning rod.

Mr. Boland stated there was a definition for fly fishing.  The only terminal tackle that you could use would be a fly.  You could get it out there by any means.  You would be able to use a sinker under ALO.  The only thing the proposal was going to restrict was the terminal tackle and it had to be a fly.  We would like to keep the regulation clean and say this section is ALO and the rest of the stream remains FFO.

Cold Stream Pond in Enfield.  There were a couple of components to the regulation proposal.  One was to rein back the liberal bag and length limits on lake trout which were instituted several year ago to reduce the lake trout population to encourage growth of the salmon and the lake trout.  That had been successful, the population had come down and Nels in Enfield would like to reinstitute general law bag limits on lake trout.  Also, he has proposed to close the fishing in the fall.  It’s been open in the fall because the fishery is maintained with stocked salmon and brook trout.  There are wild lake trout, but for 2 different reasons we opened it up in the fall several years ago.  If we were trying to reduce the lake trout population why would we discourage people from fishing in the fall.  We have a policy in the Department where we’ve got a fishery that’s maintained by stocked fish and this is principally salmon and brook trout, that if they’re stocked, we’re going to keep them open in the fall and let the anglers fish for them in the fall.  The regulations are very restrictive and in most cases ALO or FFO, C&R.  We had done that essentially statewide in all of our stocked fisheries.  We did have some instances of stocked brook trout, stocked salmon but wild lake trout.  One is Duck Lake and one is Cold Stream Pond.  We know from experience that it’s hard to encourage people to go fish for lake trout in the fall.  They do not appear to target spawning lake trout as they might spawning brook trout or salmon at the mouth of the stream.  We’re going to recommend moving ahead with the reining in of the lake trout bag and length limits, but continue to keep the pond open to fall fishing, ALO, C&R in the fall.

Mr. Boland stated we also had a proposal to restrict the storing of live bait in several waters that were the intake waters for our hatcheries.  We were very concerned at the hatcheries about the introduction of diseases and also in some cases the introduction of actual fish species that might come down from the lake and get into the filtration systems and sometimes the pool systems.  We had a couple of situations of bait dealers that had storage boxes set up in the lake where they were collecting bait species from a large geographic area and the potential was there for a problem.  We had taken the step to prohibit the storing of bait in those waters around the state.  Did this address the problem fully, no, but it was step in the right direction.

Sebago Lake, there were two major components to the proposal.  When we went down the road to opening lakes and ponds to fall fishing several years ago we eventually opened all the waters in Region A to fall fishing with restrictive regulations.  We kept 3 ponds closed, 2 were little wild trout ponds in York County and the other was Sebago Lake because we were concerned about the wild salmon there and we focused on improving that salmon fishery struggling with the introduction of pike and alewives and the burgeoning lake trout population and we were concerned enough to keep that closed.  A couple of years ago Francis Brautigam opened it in the fall in an effort to harvest more togue.  Essentially it was successful, but there were a couple areas of the lake where people were fishing for salmon.  One of those areas was at the north end of the lake near the mouth of the Songo and that’s where the spawning fish in Sebago congregate before they run up the Crooked River.  Some years there can be quite a concentration of wild salmon at the mouth of the Songo, and we supported Francis in an effort to protect that area.  We had opened the lake up to focus on lake trout and that was not happening at that end of the state.  He proposed in an area near the mouth of the Songo to close that to fall fishing only.  He had also proposed to close off the basin to fall fishing because there were a number of salmon, predominately stocked fish, they were attracted to the basin in front of the dam and could concentrate and there had been some people fly fishing for them the last couple of years.  Mr. Boland stated it was a stocked fishery, and it was the Department’s intentions to expand opportunities in stocked fish situations.  We were not trying to protect those for spawning purposes.  We would recommend that we continue to leave that open in the fall and monitor for problems. 

Mr. Boland stated the biggest part of the Sebago proposal was the lake trout.  At the Commissioner’s direction Francis Brautigam facilitated a focus group that met several times and identified that we should be improving, maintaining and restoring the salmon fishery at all costs.  One of the impacts on the salmon fishery is the huge lake trout population in the 16” to 22” range that were feeding on all the smelts and out competing the salmon.  Regulations had been liberalized, we had derbies, etc. and yet the population continues to explode.  Science tells us that the best way to manage the numbers of small togue is to increase the number of large togue in the system.  They will prey on the smaller togue and control them.  The focus group and Francis’ recommendations were unlimited lake trout under 23” and no minimum size.  We received many comments on that regarding catching trophy fish, they weren’t going to fish there any more, etc.  However, they all did want to do something to protect the salmon.  After much discussion and study, we believed a slot was warranted.  We were recommending a 23” – 30” slot; you keep all the fish under 23” that you catch, a protective slot of no harvest 23” – 30” and a 1 fish over 30” bag limit.

Council member comments and questions

Mr. Lewis stated he would like to see more regulations like that down his way.  The people that complained, were they happy with the 23” – 30”?

Mr. Boland stated they were not aware of it yet, but we thought they would be happy with it.  They supported the effort to improve the salmon fishery, they recognized the problem of too many small togue, they supported the unlimited togue under 23”.  Many were worried if they caught a big togue they’d have to put it back and we didn’t want to do anything that would discourage them.  We wanted to increase participation.  At Francis’ last estimation, 94% of the population of fish in that lake were under 23”.

Mr. Savage asked if the slot, fish 23” – 30” that we were going to protect, were they capable of eating the fish we wanted to see get eaten?

Mr. Boland stated he thought that predation would occur on smaller fish, 6” – 8” togue so they won’t get to be 20” togue.

Mr. Kelly asked in that slot size from 23” – 30” when you say the percentage of fish that are over 30” is so small, what’s the likelihood that they will catch one anyway.  If they didn’t like the proposal and went to 1 fish over 23”, would that be detrimental?

Mr. Boland stated they did not catch that many over 23” so the chance they’d catch 2 was small.  Generally if we allowed 1, probably every 1 would be kept.  This way there would be a protective slot where they’re not allowed to keep any 23” – 30”.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he did not recall any discussion in opposition to the Sebago proposal, nothing over 23”.  Most was 33”, 34” and even one discussed 36” being the maximum.  The issue biologically was such a small percentage over 30” that we were just setting a target that people could live with.  It was hard for people to return a trophy fish to the water.  Also, we had done catch and release for so long, people didn’t keep fish anymore.  There was also a problem associated with that.  You had to keep fish in the smaller range in order to achieve management goals.  We’ve had assurances from guides and others that they would encourage the keeping of those smaller fish.  There would also be an educational piece in the new law book.

Dennis Smith stated he was in favor of the proposal Mr. Boland discussed.  He fished almost exclusively for lake trout in the winter time and caught a couple over 20 lbs.  One had a 14” bass in its stomach.  He liked the 23” because once they got over 24” they ate big stuff, suckers, fall fish and they became more difficult to catch.  There were many waters in Region C that needed this, Tunk Lake, Beach Hill Pond, Branch Lake, Jordan Pond had the same problem.  He hoped the Department would look at the possibility of spreading this further.

Mr. Wheaton stated he thought we were heading down the right road.  Those that wanted a trophy fish would get that.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he would like to thank fisheries staff for the work that had been done and their recommendations.

Mr. Thurston stated he had received a call from a NH resident regarding Sebago and the new regulations.  He stated that regularly for years they had always run into a biologist on the water to inform them what was going on and they didn’t see that anymore.  That would be a perfect way to advertise what we were trying to accomplish by having a biologist on the water.

Mr. Savage asked about alewives in Sebago and how they were influencing the togue and salmon population.

Mr. Boland stated we did not know yet, but it would have a major play.  Northern pike were escalating in numbers there.  We were concerned at Sebago, other lakes had shown a tendency for large pike feeding on salmon.  The landlocked alewives that had been introduced recently had taken hold faster than we thought.  A lot of the lake trout in one part of the lake last winter were gorged on them.  If they continue that swing, the two impacts we’ve seen in other parts of the state is they do have a pretty dramatic impact on the smelt population and they also are boom or bust.  In periods of boom with alewives you’ll see good growth on bass, pickerel, pike, everything, but the bottom will drop out and we’ve seen lakes that have never recovered.  It will pose huge management problems.

Mr. Kelly asked how we were approaching the packet of proposals as far as individual waters vs. the packet.  In his area there were certain ponds where he didn’t understand why we were putting a ruling on it ie: Togue Pond.  We were proposing to change that to no live fish as bait.  It was not an ice fishing pond, but the fishery was togue and salmon.  There were brook trout in it, but people went there to fish for togue and salmon. 

Mr. Boland stated he was guessing Togue Pond was one of the 40 waters that were considered a wild brook trout water on the B list; closed to ice fishing and in an effort to protect our wild brook trout resources around the state (we have about 300 waters on the B list and another 300 waters on the A or native list which already have imposed live bait restrictions).  On the B waters we decided to take the waters already closed to ice fishing recognizing that the introduction of live bait is an issue, and in waters that are only open to open water fishing there were very few people that recognized the restriction on live bait in the summertime as being a real issue.  We have a lot of waters around the state where you could use a dead shiner or a worm.  We didn’t want live bait on the pond because of the introduction into a wild trout fishery. 

Mr. Kelly stated that pond, they fished with live bait and had their live bait traps right in the pond.  Were restrictions being placed on all water bodies in the water shed?

Mr. Boland stated we might be restricting the use of live bait in this pond that has a wild trout fishery and upstream of it there’s another pond that doesn’t have a wild trout fishery that they can use live bait.  We understood there were issues like that.  This was a step in the direction the Department was taking to protect the wild trout resources.  When introductions of other bait species or fish species happened it was irreversible.

Mr. Kelly asked what the final solution was.

Mr. Boland stated we had a wild brook trout working group and planned to hire a biologist that would focus efforts on brook trout and salmon.  We would be working toward a solution where we had a buy in from the public and anglers to protect the resource.

Mr. Kelly stated on waters like Big Brook Lake he understood because that’s what was in there was brook trout.  But even that water there were muskies in the Allagash River that could come upstream into the pond. 

Mr. Boland stated if we were going to address the bigger problem of all the potential issues that face maintaining and providing a good wild trout fishery, it would be an exhaustive effort and it would be almost impossible to address in one step.

Mr. Lewis asked if this was also an effort to streamline the law book.

Mr. Boland stated yes.  We would like to be able to have the focus group also take a look at further streamlining the law book.

Mr. Wheaton asked when it came time to vote on the packet would they be able to vote on waters individually or as a whole package.

Mr. Philbrick stated what had been done in the past was, the Council had had the packet for the last 3 meetings and gone through the public hearing process.  The next step would be to take the packet as a whole with the recommendations that had been submitted to them by the Department.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked from a rulemaking perspective, if changes were made to what was proposed did we have to open it up for public comment again?

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated not as long as it was consistent with what was proposed. 

Mrs. DeMerchant stated she was all set with the changes the Department had proposed.

Mr. Thurston stated the brook trout thing had a lot of support.  He thought we were going in a good direction.  We were trying to market the resource and protect the resource.

Mr. Kelly stated would it have been a better idea to just affect the waters we knew the no live fish as bait would help because they were cut off by any other source.  Why were we going to institute a new rule on a body of water that new rule was not going to help because of the streams, etc.  If Togue Pond was only one pond in that whole system that they togue and salmon fished we were taking one of the methods away.  He didn’t understand putting a new letter next to the pond for no benefit.

Mr. Philbrick asked Mr. Kelly if he had specific questions on rulemaking changes that were in the packet regards to areas rather than general statements.

Mr. Kelly stated Togue Pond.  Overall, just pick the waters that it would benefit.  If you’re not picking waters that rule was going to benefit you were putting it on waters that were interconnected with other systems that were already using live bait.  If our goal was not to close the whole system down to live fish as bait, there was no need of putting the rule on that water; it was not going to help.  We should have identified head waters and gone from there.

Mr. Witte stated he really didn’t have any comments other than he thought we’d addressed the major issues.

Mr. Lewis stated he liked the regulations.  The Stanley Brook one was a big thing, but mostly he had heard that people were worried the Park was going to take away one more resource from them.  A one year closing was fine.

Mr. Wheaton stated Stanley Brook was one he looked at.  At the public hearing there were some that wanted it opened to fishing.  He talked to the biologist and it did go through the two year closure, expecting it would reopen.  If the Feds wanted it to stay closed for more study, why were they not at the hearings?  He would go along with it being closed for one more year.  West Grand Lake had 2 issues; smelting, they wanted to close it to smelting hook and line and dip netting.  He had two people against it, all other calls were in favor.  He thought it was a great thing, we had to protect the salmon fishery.  The other issue was going from an 8 whitefish limit on West Grand to a 3 whitefish limit.  If that were going to move forward he would like to see the biology to understand why the drop to 3.  With no dipping of smelts and cutting whitefish to 3 we might mess with the population and cause turmoil in that lake.  He would suggest leaving the whitefish limit at 8.  If we were trying to even the book so that it was 3 statewide, why on East Grand was it 8 whitefish also.  The flowage, it was the first time our biologists and the Indian biologist had worked together.  He was 100% for catch and release there.  Butcher Lake he was 100% for the closure.  The only regulation he was really against was the going from 8 whitefish to 3.

Mr. Savage stated he did not see a lot affecting York County in the packet, nor had he heard any feedback.  He was in favor of the protection of the wild brook trout.

Mr. Philbrick stated he was glad we were pulling the Bemis Stream proposal.  Next year he would like the packet to get to the Council sooner than it did this year.

Mr. Kelly stated he did not want his comments to be taken the wrong way.  He was in favor of protecting native brook trout.

            C.  Step 1

There were no agenda items under Step 1.

V. Other Business

Mr. Witte stated the deer baiting issue, he would like to have that on the agenda.  He had gotten several calls.  In working with the wardens he knew that it was about 40% of the time spent prior to and during deer season to investigate deer baiting complaints to get in the woods.  He had received calls with people asking the difference between a food plot and bait.  We could bait coyotes, bear, etc.  He knew in other states they did allow natural baiting for deer.  He would like to hear the pros and cons from the Department regarding natural deer baiting.  He would like to hear from the Warden Service if they could break down the percentage of time spent doing this.

Mrs. DeMerchant asked Mr. Witte what his definition was of “natural.”

Mr. Witte stated there were artificial things you could buy like blocks that had syrup in them, bags of deer food and things like that.  Other states that had done it, apples, acorns, what they would find naturally in that specific area.  Not to go into Paris Farmers Union or Agway and buy a bag of stuff that’s all prepared.

Mrs. DeMerchant stated so if a hunter took some corn or apples and threw that somewhere and was hunting over it, that’s your definition of natural?

Mr. Witte stated most of the other states that did allow baiting did not allow salt.  Salt was natural but a tremendous attractant.  He had been talking with wardens about it and in his area there was a pretty high degree of it.

Mr. Kelly discussed someone that received a ticket for baiting deer.  The person was in an apple orchard, but where his tree stand was they had eaten all the apples.  Up by the road there were apples he could see so he moved them and was caught for baiting.

Mr. Philbrick stated it should be an agenda item to get some closure.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions

Kevin O’Brien stated he wanted to commend the Department on changing the timing of the rulemaking process for the fishing regulation proposals so that Step 2 came after the public hearings.  This gave a chance for the Council to hear what they had to say before making a decision.

Fern Bosse stated there was one thing challenging us and it involved Sebago, Aziscohos and Mooselook regarding the natural reproduction of salmon.  People have it instilled in them to catch and release fish.  The law had been changed on Mooselook for 6 years and he thought this would be the 3rd year on Aziscohos the minimum length was dropped to 12”.  People felt a keeper was 14”.  At a couple of the meetings it was mentioned that we could educate the people by putting posters up.  It was not working on the other two lakes.  Aziscohos was ridiculous and he didn’t know how we were going to educate the people to keep the small fish.

Mr. Philbrick discussed a fishing weekend that was advertised for Mooselook which helped get the word out.

Mr. Boland stated the new law book was a great opportunity to get a message across to each and every angler. 

Dennis Smith stated he had a couple comments on smelts.  He was on the Advisory Council in 1977 and he was an advocate proponent of restricting the taking of smelt through dipping, etc. and he had yet to see any positive advantages because of that.  All the waters that he was involved with or that were closed around that time, actually the fishing was poorer now without exception it had made zero difference restricting of dipping smelts.  Nels Kramer on Schoodic Lake in Brownville, he’s got smelts there you can’t see bottom at times.  It’s far more complicated.  He had not seen any benefits derived from those closures.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for December 14, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. at IF&W in Augusta. (This was later changed to IF&W in Bangor at 1:00pm)

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mr. Thurston and that was seconded by Mr. Kelly to adjourn the meeting.  The meeting was adjourned at 12:00 p.m.