Advisory Council Meeting Minutes

Bald Mountain Camps
125 Bald Mountain Road
Oquossoc, ME

September 28, 2011 @ 10:00 a.m.

Attending: 

Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
John Boland, Director, Bureau of Resource Management
Mark Stadler, Wildlife Division Director
Lieutenant Adam Gormely
Warden Pat Egan
Warden Jonathan Parker
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
                       
COUNCIL MEMBERS
Steve Philbrick, Chair
Cathy DeMerchant, Vice-Chair
Lance Wheaton
Jeff Lewis
Lila Ware
                       
GUESTS
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Skip Trask, MTA
Judy Finley
Fern Bosse, Norway
Tom Cluff, Rangeley
Steve Tobin, Norway
Jeff Reardon, TU       
                       
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 Mrs. DeMerchant to accept the Council minutes for the June and August meetings.

Vote:  unanimous – minutes accepted.

 

IV.  Rulemaking

            A.  Step 3

1.  2011-12 Beaver Season/Closures

Mr. Stadler stated the first change was in the list of Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) we removed WMD 27 from the December 1 – March 31, and moved it up to the season opening November 1.  The second change was in the next paragraph, second line, changing March 31 to February 28.  The final change was at the bottom of the page regarding the trigger set for conibears to pass otter.  This had been discussed at great length at the last meeting in Bristol.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mrs. Ware asked if Step 3 was the final step, or would we be making more changes.

Mrs. Erskine stated we were bringing the proposal forward as proposed.

Mr. Philbrick stated it had been requested by Council member Mike Witte that this item be tabled because of the level of controversy in his area.  Mr. Philbrick stated he had also received many e-mails regarding the proposal. 

Mrs. Ware asked Mr. Stadler how many otter were taken every year, and how many could we take and sustain an active otter population.

Mr. Stadler stated we were proposing to make the change for a time period when it was not a legal otter trapping season.  What the rule did was first provide that a person that incidentally catches an otter may keep it.  We were proposing to try to minimize that take during that time of year and slide the trigger over so that otter could pass through.  If we wanted to extend the otter trapping season we should do that.

Mrs. Ware asked if the incidental take of otter happened because we originally extended the beaver season.  Could we recall the extended beaver season?

Mr. Stadler stated we could, but the extended beaver seasons were established to allow trappers the opportunity to really knock back the beaver population.  Some parts of the state had tremendous nuisance beaver problems to the point where some of our Animal Damage Control activities outside the regular trapping season were killing 100’s of beaver.  The thought was it was better to utilize the resource in the fur trade than to kill them outside of the season when they were causing damage.

Mrs. Ware asked if we had records to know how many otters were being taken incidentally.

Mr. Stadler stated in 2010, 20% of the otter harvest occurred outside of the regular otter trapping season.

Mr. Wheaton stated he worried about this and the effects on the trapping industry.  He would like to hear from a representative of the Trapper’s Association. 

Mr. Philbrick asked Mr. Wheaton if he had a specific question for Mr. Trask.

Mr. Wheaton asked how many animals would be saved by going to a side trigger.

Mr. Trask stated he was not sure there was an answer to that question.  In studies done in North Carolina they indicated it might reduce the incidental otter take by as much as 50%.  The New York study was inconclusive.  In their study they took two otter, one in a modified trap and one that was not modified.  Mr. Trask stated he was an avid trapper, but did not trap beaver in the spring.  If he did and had to move the trigger off to the side, he would stop trapping.  Anybody that used body gripper traps knew what was going to happen if you had to set the trigger off to the side.  A lot of otter would swim through.  If they did spring the trap it would be with their hind feet and they would be caught by the feet or the tail.  In the study done in NC, the only animals (wasn’t sure if it was otter or beaver) taken by extremities were taken in traps with the modified trigger arrangement.  Anybody that had trapped with body grippers understood the need to have the trigger arrangement set up so the animal hit it with the front part of its body so when the trap springs, it hits the head and neck and kills the animal quickly.  Mr. Trask stated he would not trap if he had to trap with a modified trigger arrangement.

Mr. Stadler stated the data for both studies was included in the Advisory Council packet. 

Mr. Philbrick asked Mr. Trask if the Maine Trappers Association was opposed.

Mr. Trask stated they were adamantly opposed to the proposal.

Motion made by Mr. Wheaton not to move forward with the entire proposal.
The motion was not seconded.

Motion made by Mrs. DeMerchant and seconded by Mr. Thurston to accept the beaver trapping season dates and closures, but to amend the proposal and remove the language pertaining to the trigger set.
Vote:  Unanimous – proposal passed as amended.

2.  2011 Fall Turkey Season

Mr. Stadler stated the proposal would add WMDs 24 and 25 to Zone 2 which has more liberal hunting opportunities than Zone 1.  For Zone 3 we were proposing to add WMD 26.  This would provide more turkey hunting opportunity in the fall for residents in those WMDs. 

Motion made by Mrs. Ware and seconded by Mr. Thurston  to accept the proposal as presented.

Vote:  Unanimous - motion passed.

            B.  Step 2

1.  Spring Turkey Season

Mr. Stadler stated over the years the Department has tried to convert many of the hunting seasons into a generic format so that people would be able to predict when hunting seasons were going to be.  We were proposing to do that with the spring turkey season such that the spring hunt would begin on the Monday closest to May 1 and continue for 5 consecutive weeks.  This would also clean up the permitting portion of the rule.

There were no further questions or comments.

            C.  Step 1

1.  Fishing Regulation Changes

Mr. Boland stated the packet was late in coming out; fisheries division was short staffed and there had been a lot of last minute changes in the packet.  The process needed to move along so that the final product could be distributed before the end of March 2012.

Mr. Philbrick stated in terms of the timeline, he thought there was time to do it, the only question was that the Council did not see the packet sooner.

Mr. Boland wanted to know what he could do to accommodate the Council to provide any additional opportunity for review and questions.  Every change on every water was reflected in one page in the packet.  Many of the changes were very minor.  A year and half ago we went to a two year law book that included both ice fishing and open water fishing.  There were some issues and some concerns and those were addressed in the packet. 

Mrs. Ware asked what those issues and concerns were.

Mr. Boland stated the issues and concerns for the Department were from blending the open water regulations.  Over the last decade we had been opening more waters to an extended season or year round season. 

Mrs. Ware asked if part of the effort was to look at a watershed on an annual basis.

Mr. Boland stated yes.  There was a supplement in the Council’s packet that listed waters in Regions A, B and C.  He gave an example of Sabbathday Lake.  We stocked it with brook trout and brown trout, was traditionally open to ice fishing and last year because of the blending of all the opportunities we allowed fishing in October, November and December, but it was catch and release on salmonids.  They could use live bait.  People were going out early in the ice fishing season (December) catching brown trout and having to release them and there were complaints from the ice fishing community on Sabbathday that said the fishing was not as good.  It was the same for a number of waters.  Mr. Boland stated a change in the book was that in all of those southern and eastern counties the general law was that all lakes and ponds were open October, November and December unless otherwise indicated but it was artificial lures only (ALO) and catch and release (C&R) on salmonids.  The list of waters in the packet was the exceptions to that.  They were put and take type fisheries.

Mr. Boland stated there were a couple of broader initiatives that the Council would see partly developed in the proposals.  We were looking statewide at protecting wild brook trout.  We had been working with the wild brook trout committee that was going to take a hard look at the use of live bait in our A and B wild and native brook trout waters.  As a step towards that, we had taken about 40 waters that were on the wild trout list that are closed in the winter but allow the use of live bait in the summer.  We’re proposing on those 40 waters to restrict the use of live bait.  The reason is not so much hooking mortality, but the unintentional introduction of other bait species or fish that may come in the bait pail.  This would be no live fish as bait.  You could still use dead fish or worms.  The packet also included a list of ponds where we proposed regulations to improve the size quality of trout and a few to improve the size quality of salmon.

Mr. Boland discussed the summary sheet from the packet.  It appeared we would be using the same publisher that published the hunting law book and would be on an annual basis.  #7 was discussed in some detail, “Propose to prohibit the holding of any live bait-fish in IF&W hatchery supply waters in order to protect against the transmission of fish diseases to the hatcheries.”  Mr. Boland stated we took water directly from the lakes and ponds for our hatcheries.  In those waters it was not unlikely to see an occasional fish from the pond show up either in the filtering plant or even in the raceway.  We did not want to run the risk of introduction of disease into the systems or a new species of fish. 

Mrs. Ware commented on #6, “that are not open to ice fishing.”  Was that not part of a very large exception to protecting wild brook trout.

Mr. Boland stated regards #6, we had a list of about 300 or so lakes and ponds that were principal fisheries for wild brook trout and they had not been stocked for 25 years.  Included in that list were about 40 waters that currently were closed to ice fishing but still allowed the use of live fish as bait.  We were going to restrict the use of live fish as bait on those 40 waters.  There was a proposal to mandate the kill of northern pike.  In some cases the proposal came for individual bodies of water such as Pushaw, others proposed that anybody that caught a pike should be mandated to kill it and prevent it from returning to the water dead or alive.  Some people were not comfortable in killing anything and if so, what would they do with it.  Also, this would be tough to enforce.  They did this in Yellowstone Lake and some places out west.  The lake trout introduction at Yellowstone, if you caught a lake trout you were required by law to kill it.  They had never prosecuted anyone for that, it was to send a message.

Mr. Boland stated in the new law book, they intended to have a page devoted to the introduction of illegal fish species.  Probably a strong recommendation in some counties or waters that if people caught pike we would want them killed.

Mr. Philbrick commented on live fish as bait and the comments about killing pike.  He did not find it distasteful if it was a management tool that we needed to impose.

Mr. Boland stated he was not sure what the ruling was from the Attorney General’s office.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated she spoke to Mark Randlett directly about it and probably the AG before that, and they had stated you could put it into rule, but the enforcement of such a rule would be difficult at best.  In the case where an invasive species has been determined, the Commissioner does have the authority to designate anglers to go there with the intent of taking and killing.

Mrs. Ware asked about signage.

Mr. Boland stated we had posted signs at bodies of water of concern.  He felt we would also get as much messaging from a prominent page in the front of the new law book.
 
Mr. Philbrick commented on fishway ladders.  It was identified back in the “old days” that was how yellow perch managed to get into different bodies of water.  It was also part of the initiative that the Oquossoc Angling Assoc. took on in the early 50’s.  The screen in Rangeley which provided water to the fish hatchery which used to be state owned in Oquossoc, yellow perch were showing up in the fish hatchery because of this.  He felt it was time to get stiffer on those waters than we were right now.  He had witnessed how the entire Rangeley Lakes region now had yellow perch in their waters. 

Mr. Boland stated it was a big issue.  We would be looking at some broader initiatives and efforts in the next law book.  Maine’s resource was like no other when it came to brook trout.  There were steps that needed to be taken to protect it.

Mr. Wheaton stated when you had a bait license; wardens and biologists would come to the tanks and check the fish so they knew what was in your tank.  Back to northern pike, he thought people had discussed the Penobscot River.  They didn’t want pike up river and that would be why they’d want them killed immediately.  He saw things that weren’t addressed.  The Howland Dam was probably built on a set of falls at the time, now they were going to build a fish way around it to let fish go.  In the naturalness of that set of falls, maybe there was a drop of 60 feet and 100 feet of river, that was a very severe drop.  Now that they’re putting a fishway around the dam they’re making it easy for the species they want upstream, they’re making a ½ mile of a little rise and the fish can pass easily when in the natural surroundings they couldn’t make it.  We shouldn’t let things be built to just let everything go up river.

Mr. Boland stated there were several other states that had taken steps recently, there were a couple of disease issues right now in bait species.  That particular disease could spread to other fish species.  This “VHS” has been found in NY and Vermont and those states had taken steps so you either had to get bait from certified licensed bait dealers or collect bait from the pond where you would use it.  In other states bait could only be collected from the drainage where you were going to use it.  In MN bait dealers had to take a course in biosecurity so they could be licensed.  In terms of Howland Dam, it was a big issue.  The Penobscot initiative, one of the dams that was scheduled to be bypassed is Howland.  Engineers with the Feds looked at developing a sorting facility that was safe and effective and essentially after many months they came back and said it could not be done.  It became a question for IF&W and DMR and the Baldacci administration what was the best solution.  It was decided a bypass would be built and we would work with USFWS and other groups to try to mitigate the potential of pike in the upper drainage.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine asked Mr. Boland if we had given any thought to public hearing locations.

Mr. Boland stated no.

Mr. Philbrick asked the group if they had any requests regarding hearing locations.  After Council had reviewed the summary sheet and reviewed there areas, let Deputy Commissioner Erskine or John Boland know if they felt it warranted to have a hearing in their area.

 

 V.  Other Business

1.  C&R fishing regulations; partridge

Mr. Boland asked Mr. Wheaton to clarify his request.

Mr. Wheaton stated most of them had read about alewives getting into the St. Croix and going to Spednik Lake and annihilating the fishery.  With diving biologists there were so few fish that we had to bring in fish from other lakes to restock the lake.  It was determined to go to a catch and release program so the population could rebuild.  The fishery was now starting to come back.  For some reason, the flowage had gone down hill.  The catch rate was almost zero.  The Indians wanted to close it to catch and release.  Greg Burr, regional fishery biologist decided that might be a good idea and everyone in the region was in favor.  It had been brought to Mr. Wheaton by many guides and camp owners on Long Lake and Big Lake that they would like to see the regulation brought to Big, Long and Louis Lakes.  This was what Mr. Wheaton had wanted to address in the catch and release portion of his request.

Mr. Boland stated some of the trout regulations (S-20) we had experimented with for the last 5 or 6 years and we’re expanding on in the law book, and its where in trout fisheries we allowed harvest of some smaller size and protect by catch and release larger size fish.  It was a great model allowing the potential for some people to catch and eat fish yet provide quality and larger size fish down the road.

Mr. Wheaton stated regards to partridge, the season in Washington County the number of birds was way down.  People were nervous we would be moving to a 1 bird limit unless something was done.  They felt that 3 months was too long a season, and people needed to stop shooting out of the car window.  He had hunted in Minnesota and Michigan and they had a 10-yard law in place.  The 10-yard law was from any motorized vehicle you must be 30-feet (10-yards) from any motor vehicle to load your shotgun.  If you were in the woods on a 4-wheeler and saw a bird you had to get off the 4-wheeler and move 30-feet before you could load the shotgun and shoot.  It saved birds.  We not only had gone to a 3-month season (always was October to November 15), many birds were being shot in trees, etc.  He felt we should shorten the season and protect the species.

Mr. Lewis stated when he was a warden in Lubec and then Pembroke patrols, when the season changed to December 30, that was where the great amount of pressure was.  There were a lot of fishermen that were done in November and would head to camp to shoot budding partridge.  They would drive around and it was the last ½ hour and they might get their whole limit out of one tree.  That was happening more and more and had affected the partridge population.

Mrs. Ware stated she had read that a lot of the information on grouse was taken from moose hunters.  She was a grouse hunter and she was not required to report or tag or indicate the number of birds harvested or seen.  Was there a reasonable way to have bird hunters report their success rates?

Mr. Boland referred to the program “Trip Tracks”.  It was a voluntary angling record keeping system.  Every year the information was downloaded to the Department and was helpful.  There had been discussions of expanding that to either bird watching or perhaps flushes or sightings of grouse.  The Department used the information from moose hunters, but there were other efforts underway to collect information.

Mr. Philbrick asked Mr. Stadler to comment on the viability of partridge in Maine in his opinion.

Mr. Stadler stated the conventional wisdom amongst wildlife biologists in the Northeast and upper Midwest was that guns did not limit grouse populations.  Weather was what limited grouse populations.  You really could not over shoot a grouse population because once they were reduced to a certain number they would come back.  He referred to 2005 when everyone thought that grouse would become extinct, and there was talk of shortening the season.  In looking at the records, Downeast had the highest numbers since they started keeping records.  We provided the extended grouse season to provide more opportunity for hunters.  If the hunters didn’t want that extended season, we could take it back.

Mr. Philbrick stated if there was an issue that a Council member was going to take action on and go the petition route; the thing to do was to allow a local club to sponsor it, not the individual Advisory Council member.

Mr. Wheaton stated he would talk to some clubs and see what they wanted to do.

VI.  Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

Mr. Philbrick stated he would like to thank Council member Mike Witte for hosting the August meeting in Bristol.

VII.  Public Comments & Questions

Gary Corson asked about the timing of the public hearings for the fishing regulation proposals and the 3-step Advisory Council process.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine explained the process and stated that after the public hearings were concluded, the Council would have time to review and discuss before they voted at Step 3.  This was a 3-step process outside of the Administrative Procedures Act.

VIII.  Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. at Inland Fisheries and Wildife, 284 State Street, Augusta. (This date was later changed to Tuesday, November 29th).

IX.  Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and that was seconded by Mr. Thurston to adjourn the meeting.  The meeting was adjourned at 12:30 p.m.