Advisory Council Meeting
July 10 , 2019 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (upstairs conference room)
284 State Street, Augusta
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Nate Webb, Wildlife Division Director
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Jim Pellerin, Fisheries Biologist Region A
Frank Frost, Fisheries Biologist Region G
Matt Lubejko, Fisheries Planner and Research Coordinator Jason Luce, Warden Service Sargent
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Matt Thurston (Chair)
Jerry Scribner (Vice-chair)
Jeff Reardon, Trout Unlimited
Fern & Sylvia Bosse, Norway
Gary Corson, New Sharon
I. Call to Order
Matt Thurston Council Chair, called the meeting to order.
Introductions were made.
III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting
A motion was made by Mr. Smith to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Sage
Vote: Unanimous - minutes approved.
A. Step 3
1. Ch. 13 Watercraft rules and sound level testing
Mrs. Theriault stated in statute we had a prohibition that watercraft could not be operated beyond certain decibels and the Commissioner shall establish rules to guide law enforcement officers in testing for boats operating above those noise levels. We had never put the rules in place. We had received quite a few complaints, mostly from the Sebago Lakes region in regard to the issue. We had received overwhelming support for the proposal. We mirrored New Hampshire's rules and referred to the SAE standards with a link in the rule so people could go to those standards with the testing procedure.
Sergeant Luce stated we used New Hampshires process with their permission. He was the supervisor in the Sebago Lake area and NH was very good at what they did. The loud boats had left Lake Winnipesaukee and gone to Sebago and Long Lake. They received a fair amount of complaints. It was only a handful of boats causing most of the problems. They knew the way the rules were currently written the wardens could not enforce it. The new rule would make it much easier to enforce.
Mrs. Theriault stated it had been moved up from Step 2 because we wanted to get the rule in place for the boating season. The Council could discuss the comments that had come in prior to voting if they wished.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Thurston stated Sebago Lake area was his backyard living in Gorham and he made it a point of discussion with a lot of anglers and others. He had not received one negative comment. He felt this was a good thing to do for that body of water.
Mr. Sage asked how the testing would be conducted.
Sergeant Luce stated there would be two methods of testing. NH had a course set up on Lake Winnipesaukee where they could do a test while the boat was in motion. That would be difficult to do in his area. The other option would be a stationary test. Both procedures were spelled out in the SAE standards. We would most likely utilize the stationary test. The boat would be held at idle speed and the microphone held so far off the back of the boat. NH had also offered to help train Maine wardens how to use the equipment. It was a statewide law, but right now the focus would be the Sebago Lake area.>/p>
A motion was made by Mr. Scribner to accept the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Sage.
Vote: unanimous - motion passed
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the next two items under Step 2, Furbearer rules and 2019 Any-deer permit allocations, we were requesting to move to Step 3 for discussion and a vote. We were up against a deadline on the printing of the hunting lawbooks. The public comment period had ended on both proposals.
Mr. Thurston stated there wasnt a lot of feedback on either of the issues. He asked for a motion to move the proposals to Step 3.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to move Furbearer rules and 2019 Any-deer permit allocations to Step 3 and that was seconded by Mr. Smith
Mr. Farrington stated he did not feel they could move the proposals because of the APA process.
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the public comment period was closed and after the public comment period and after discussion the Commissioner was allowed to make changes. Where there was not any amount of comments to the negative, they could vote on the proposals. We had checked with the Attorney Generals office.
Vote: unanimous - motion passed
2. Furbearer Rules
Mr. Webb stated typically every year in the spring we put forth proposed changes to furbearer hunting and trapping so they could be finalized in time to go in our hunting and trapping lawbooks. Every year we made variable changes to the rules. This year we had a number of changes that we brought forward. The most significant change was to extend the beaver season and add two additional weeks in the spring with a closure date of April 15 in southern and central Maine, WMDs 7 and 11-29. Most of those WMDs closed at the end of March and the trapping community had for several years requested that we close the season later to allow trappers time to pursue beaver in ice-out conditions so they could trap in open water and not chip through 3-4 feet of ice. Beaver populations were very robust statewide and we received a significant number of complaints. Trapper participation had been low for a number of years due to low pelt prices and other factors. We believed there was no biological concern and would provide trappers with additional opportunity to harvest the resource and help prevent some problems that usually started after ice-out such as road damage and other conflicts.
Mr. Webb stated we were also proposing to extend the muskrat trapping season to the same end date. We had a long tradition of aligning the muskrat trapping season with the beaver season because they were often pursued together. We were proposing to extend the muskrat season for those two additional weeks in the same WMDs as well. We were also proposing to require that trappers harvesting otter incidentally to beaver trapping from January 1 through the end of the beaver trapping season register those otter with the Department within 10 days of harvest. The reason for that was so we could more closely monitor the harvest of the species which due to its life history could be vulnerable to over harvest. The tighter tagging requirement would allow us to monitor the harvest throughout the season and in the future if we had a concern we could close the season on an emergency basis if needed. We were also proposing to align the tagging timeline for bobcat taken by hunting to 10 days as well. That was currently 72 hours. For simplicity, we were proposing to align that timeline with the otter timeline.
Mr. Webb stated we were also proposing to require bobcat hunters to submit a tooth and tissue sample. That was something we required trappers to do for a few years and wed like to get the same information from bobcat hunters as well. We were proposing a slight change for coyote tagging. Currently, there was no ability for a person that harvested a coyote to give that animal to a trapper to make use of the pelt without having it tagged. The change would allow a hunter that harvested a coyote to give it to a trapper with a temporary tag identifying the hunter without having to formally register it. The ownness would then be with the trapper that received it to formally register it. That would hopefully allow more use of that fur resource by the trappers.
Mr. Webb stated we had one change to the beaver closures. We closed properties and areas of the state to beaver trapping upon request from landowners. Many had been in place for a number of years. We made adjustments as requests came in from landowners either dropping the closure or adding them. This year there was one request for a closure in WMD 6. We were also proposing to amend the definition of a float for muskrat trapping. It was a clarification to ensure that the device was completely surrounded by water in a way that minimized the risk of capturing a nontarget species.
Mr. Webb stated finally, there was a law passed during the last legislative session that adjusted the start date of upland game species hunting from October 1 to the last Saturday in September. That would apply to all upland game species except woodcock which were regulated federally. The public comment period had closed. We held a public hearing on May 29, 2019 and only a handful of people attended. Those that spoke were in support of the proposed changes. We received no written comments.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Scribner stated in terms of the opening of the season the last Saturday in September, this year the following Monday after the last Saturday in September was still in September and people were asking if that day was going to be open also.
Mr. Webb stated the start of the season would be the last Saturday in September and would be continuing. The law that passed and the proposed rule started the season on that last Saturday and it would run right through to the end of the season.
Mr. Sage asked about beaver closures and asking permission to access peoples land.
Mr. Webb stated beaver trapping was an exception in that unless the land was posted otherwise or closed in rule, the trapper did not need to seek landowner permission. It was assumed as it was for hunting. That was the reason for the closures, those areas were closed to beaver trapping and it was on the trapper to understand where the closures were.
Mrs. Peet stated she knew there had been some concern about population decline in muskrat among trappers and tribal communities. What were his thoughts about extending the season.
Mr. Webb stated continent wide concern over declining muskrat populations was not a Maine issue or northeast issue. There were a number of theories about what was driving that, disease, climate, toxicology concerns, etc. There were a few large-scale research projects looking at those factors trying to understand what was happening. There was no evidence indicating that harvest played any role in those declines. There was concern about those populations and at some point there could be concerns over the sustainability of harvest. We did not have those concerns right now due to low pelt prices and low participation by trappers in general. We believed muskrat harvest was very low. Last year, there was a rule change that required mandatory harvest reporting by trappers. Muskrat was not a species that trappers had to register or tag, and on those mandatory reports ask trappers how many muskrats they harvested the previous year. We had been having conversations with the Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit about potentially doing some muskrat research oriented in the northeast. In general as a basic principal we tried to avoid timing seasons when wildlife had dependent offspring. The extension would go into the breeding season, but it was not at a time of year when the kits had been born or there were any dependent offspring.
Mr. Smith asked why we didnt require muskrats to be tagged and was there any clue as to how many were harvested in Maine per year.
Mr. Webb stated we didnt have any recent information, that was one of the reasons we wanted to start gathering the information from the trappers. We had a handful of species that we did require tagging or registration, beaver, fisher, marten, otter; usually those were species that due to their life history and relatively low reproductive rates and vulnerability to trapping there was risk of over harvest. Many other species such as muskrat, racoon, skunk, opossum, they were much more productive and research done range wide showed that similar to upland game birds typically harvest was compensatory, not additive or something that really affected populations in any significant way.
Mr. Farrington stated if there was a concern what was the issue with having them tag?
Mr. Webb stated there was a burden on trappers to do that and it was something we would discuss. We were in the midst of a furbearer planning process. Muskrat was one of the first species they would be working on.
Mrs. Peet asked about enforcement issues if the beaver and muskrat seasons were not aligned.
Sergeant Luce stated other than incidental take or those types of issues he didnt feel it would be all that difficult.
A motion was made by Mr. Scribner to accept the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Sage.
Vote: unanimous - motion passed.
3. 2019 Any-deer permit allocations
Mr. Webb stated every year the Department allocated any-deer permits as a way to manage the antlerless harvest of the deer population. We issued any-deer permits according to WMDs across the state, and the permit would allow the recipient to harvest an antlerless deer in lieu of an antlered deer. We used antlerless deer harvest as a way to manipulate and manage the deer densities. We had a big game management plan and a long history of planning for deer and other big game species in a way that tried to achieve the desires of the public as well as the hunting community for deer populations. It was a matter of balancing what the average resident of Maine wanted with what hunters would like to see and other folks that interacted with deer. We looked at hunter preferences, rates of vehicle collisions, diseases such as Lyme, crop damage, habitat damage, all those things were looked at. We used a number of pieces of information when we were recommending permit numbers. Things such as winter severity which was a big driver of deer populations in Maine and other types of mortality such as vehicle collisions, predation, etc. We used hunter success rates and buck kill index from the hunting season and looked at the age structure of the population and the sex ratios. All those factors were considered as we developed permit recommendations.
Mr. Webb stated we were proposing 68,145 antlerless deer permits distributed primarily in southern and central Maine where the deer population was highest and most productive and where other forms of mortality tended to be relatively low. Historically, we issued very few to no permits in the northern part of the state due to the impact that severe winter weather had on deer up there and the fact that in general we were trying to grow the population which had been a challenge. The past winter was very severe in northern Maine, but average in southern and central Maine. Relative to last year, we were proposing either the same number of permits in northern Maine or a reduction in permits. In southern and central Maine the permit numbers were similar to last year or slightly lower. For a number of years we were trying to bring the doe/buck ratio down to have a more balanced sex structure in the population. We achieved that last year so were able to bring the permit numbers down slightly and go to more of a maintenance mode with antlerless harvest in southern and central Maine.
Mr. Webb stated that new this year we were proposing to establish two subunits in WMDs 25 and 26. These were areas where for a number of years weve had significant concern over locally abundant deer populations at a small scale within a WMD. A cluster of towns where there were a lot of vehicle collisions, Lyme disease, complaints from the public and we hadnt felt it was appropriate to issue a large number of any-deer permits across the entire WMD to resolve that very local issue. New this year, we designated two subunits and were proposing to issue bonus antlerless permits within those subunits. A hunter that received one of the bonus permits would be allowed to harvest an additional antlerless deer within that specific area, not the entire WMD.
Mr. Webb stated a public hearing was held on the proposal on June 20 and no members of the public attended. We received a written comment in opposition to permit numbers in WMD 23, they felt the number was too high. We received a number of written comments in support of the proposal, particularly in support of the new subunits. We were not proposing any changes to the original proposal.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Scribner stated it was very evident after meeting with a group there last year that they were looking to the Department for help with their overabundance of deer and their Lyme disease issue in the Georgetown area. The comments received from that area had been very supportive and thankful. The Department should feel good about the subunit structure focusing on hot spots within the state where we had documented overabundance of deer and Lyme disease.
Mr. Farrington asked why a subunit was not created for Eastport.
Mr. Webb stated this was a new tool for the Department and we looked at a number of factors such as rates of Lyme disease, vehicle collisions, public complaints and used a harvest metrics to look at intensity of harvest within those areas as a way to objectively identify the areas in a way that was defensible based on data and information. Our goal was to roll it out in a couple of areas to see how it worked. Our criteria were conservative and if it worked well we would loosen the criteria and identify potentially more areas in the future where we could use the tool. There were other areas that fell into the same category.
Mr. Smith stated in WMDs 27 and 28 theyd had an increase in deer and as a result, an increase in ticks and Lyme disease. For the last couple of years theyd had 50 permits and that dropped to 25 in each of the zones. The tagging stations/sporting goods stores had approached him and asked why, now that there were doe permits in those zones, they couldnt have an extra week of muzzleload season in those WMDs. It would be a huge boost to the businesses. If it would not really effect the population, we were issuing permits there.
Mr. Webb stated there was some statutory framework, but it would be through rulemaking. There had been some discussion around the one vs. two-week muzzleload season. There was concern the second week of muzzleload season in northern, eastern, western Maine the deer were beginning yarding activities. Some had ethical concerns with that.
Ms. Rousseau asked why we did not allow the use of bow and arrow hunting during the first week of muzzleloader season.
Mr. Webb stated they were social issues. Typically, when those seasons were started it was because of a user group that wanted to do that activity and be the only one at that time of year. From a biological perspective he did not think we would have a concern. It was a tradition with Maine hunting for perspective user groups.
Mr. Smith stated he thought it had passed through the Fish and Wildlife Committee on crossbows during the regular archery season, but it would not be in effect for the fall.
Mr. Webb stated the law did pass and would go into effect in 2020 for 3 years and had a sunset provision. Crossbows would be allowed during the regular archery season. However, in order to harvest an antlerless deer you would be required to have an any-deer permit. Regular archery hunters in WMDs where any-deer permits were issued did not require an any-deer permit.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to accept the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Smith
Vote: unanimous - motion passed.
B. Step 2
1. Conroy Lake open to ice fishing petition
Mr. Brautigam stated we received a public petition from Monticello Fish and Game Club to open Conroy Lake to ice fishing for smelt and brook trout. Conroy Lake was a 25-acre lake. A public hearing was held on June 13, 2019 and there were 13 public members in attendance. All the public members in attendance were supportive of moving forward with the petition. There was some discussion regarding parking issues along the pond. There were a lot of private roads around the pond and in the winter time the plowing was challenging to accommodate public use. It was also a very well developed pond. One of the property owners had a business on the pond and offered to plow an area for parking for the public and provide access to the pond. The Department had some reservations about opening the small pond to ice fishing because it would likely mean the open water season would be compromised. It would mean that probably the open water season, particularly the spring fishery would not be nearly as good for brook trout and for splake. In addition, the smelt dipping in the spring may also not be that good. After considering all the information available the Department decided to move forward in support of the proposed petition to open the water to ice fishing. We were proposing an amendment that would establish a two-line limit. That would be put in place to help distribute the catch for the winter fishing season. This was more a social issue than a biological issue. The fish in the pond aside from the smelt, the brook trout and splake were stocked. There was no wild reproduction there. It was more about managing social use opportunities.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Thurston asked if any negative comments were received.
Mr. Brautigam stated there were none received.
Mr. Farrington asked if this would necessitate a change in the stocking program.
Mr. Brautigam stated it would. Brook trout stocked there, we did get some growth but it was stocked more as a put and take opportunity. The splake were stocked there with the intent they would grow to larger size before being harvested. With the water being open in the winter, there was no way we would be able to manage to grow splake through the winter into the next season. We were planning to likely suspend the splake stocking program, and continue with brook trout stocking and look into stocking retired brook trout to provide some size quality.
Mr. Brautigam stated he felt there was also limited ice fishing opportunity in that area.
Mr. Scribner asked how much open water fishing occurred there.
Mr. Frost stated it was a small water and a pretty small fishery. It was mostly the local residents and would be the same people fishing in the winter.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated he attended the public hearing and there were limited ice fishing opportunities for the Monticello area. It would give the kids a chance to get out in the winter time. It was a commercial campground that would keep the parking lot plowed and provide access to the water. He thought it was a great change and showed the Department was listening to the people in Aroostook County.
2. Wild Trout Conservation Strategy - North Zone General Law Concept
Mr. Brautigam stated the Department had a considerable amount of time invested in the proposal. It would change the general law structure in the north region from a situation where you could predominantly use live bait anywhere with certain exceptions identified in the law book to a situation where the general law would be reversed. The general law would be no use of live fish as bait except where we indicated you could. The focus was trying to do more to conserve the wild trout resources we had in northern Maine. The regulation was designed to not only create awareness and think about use of live fish as bait, but because introduced populations of baitfish and other fish that were sometimes associated with baitfish in the bait bucket could adversely impact our wild and native trout resources. The Legislature in 2018 had several bills before it and as part of that effort we worked with the Legislature to put together a strategy that would better conserve those wild resources in the northern part of the state. The legislation addressed state heritage fish waters and required the Department to establish the same protections that were on heritage ponds to the tributaries of those heritage ponds. The concern at the time was if we did that we would end up adding volume to our law book. We wanted to look for other strategies we could use to address the Legislatures desire to protect those heritage waters by protecting the tributaries.
Mr. Brautigam stated the Department had formed a heritage work group to work on developing the strategy which was now the proposal to provide those protections without complicating the fishing law book. In October, 2018 the Department submitted a progress report to the Legislature and the report identified eight guidelines used to develop the proposal. We had convened two public information meetings to try and generate public awareness of why we were moving forward with the proposal. One of the points that was made when looking at the range of eastern brook trout in the U.S. the range had been in decline and ran from Maine to Georgia. One of the leading factors for the cause of the decline were the introduction of new species of fish that competed with brook trout. In the proposal, we would retain use of live fish as bait fishing opportunities on all waters that were open to ice fishing. Those were the areas people had traditionally fished and we would be identifying additional waters that were open just during the open water season where there was a strong historical tradition of fishing with live fish as bait. Those two categories comprised those waters that would be exempted from the no live fish as bait general law in the north zone.
Mr. Brautigam stated the goal was to develop a balanced approach that would provide enhanced protections to native fish while trying to minimize any unintended impacts to the angling community, baitfish harvesters and our fishing law book. The initiative would not reduce the use of worms or dead bait fish, it would only affect the use of live bait fish. When trying to determine how this general law change would effect the number of special regulations in the law book we found it would significantly reduce the number of regulations which would be consistent with ongoing Department efforts to simplify and reform the fishing law book.
Mr. Brautigam stated in March 2019, we put together the initial regulation proposal and that was based on guidance we provided to regional staff in identifying waters that would be flagged as exemptions where we asked regional staff to make sure the waters identified were waters where there was evidence of angling use with live fish as bait, and that there was more than just incidental angler use on those waters. Those were the waters that would continue the use of live fish as bait. Following the public comments that were received on the first effort to advance the no live fish as bait in the north zone, there were a number of comments that were submitted expressing concerns about how the criteria was applied consistently statewide. We withdrew the proposal and further refined the criteria that would be used to identify those waters that would remain open to the use of live fish as bait. Placing more of a focus on looking at waters that provided season long fisheries and where we had a well-established angling community. In an effort to achieve statewide consistency, criteria were established. When the refined criteria was applied for the round two proposal, we reduced the total number of exceptions where bait could be used by 84 waters. We ended up with 339 waters that were currently proposed as exceptions to no live fish as bait in the northern region.
Mr. Brautigam stated under the second revised proposal we held a public hearing on June 17, 2019. Only four members of the public attended. Attendance at most of the fishing regulation public hearings over the last 3 years had been very poor. We had been struggling to figure out how to better engage the public so they were aware of our proposed regulation changes and have more opportunity to be involved. We utilized the .Gov delivery system to notify license holders. We received over 50 written comments. The public comments were positive and supportive of the proposal. There were only few that opposed the proposal with concerns that there would be some lost angling opportunity. Based on the public comments that were submitted and based on our review and application of the criteria that was used, we were proposing no additional revisions to the proposal.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Farrington asked how many waters were going to be removed from using no live fish as bait. People in his area were questioning how many waters they were going to lose the use of live fish as bait.
Mr. Brautigam stated they would need to look at the list of exceptions and those would be the waters they could continue to use live fish as bait. Everything else they would not be allowed to use live fish as bait. We would develop an S-11 code that would represent the use of live fish as bait.
Mrs. Peet stated in the areas where they could not use live fish as bait, would they still be able to catch smelt with a hand line.
Mr. Brautigam stated they couldnt use live fish as bait, so they couldnt use them as bait. He didnt think there were many of those.
Mrs. Peet stated she reached out to a warden in Aroostook County and he stated one thing for an enforcement issue if they were still allowed to catch and keep live smelt from a water, if he saw an angler coming off the water with a cooler full of live smelt how would he know if the smelt were caught or brought in. If it was a no live fish as bait, but they could still catch smelt with a hand line it could be an enforcement issue.
Mr. Brautigam stated that would something to work through with warden service. The rule was set up as use and possession of live fish as bait, so if you were there with a fishing pole and had live bait in your possession then you would be in violation. He thought it would be different if you were targeting smelt and just fishing for smelt and keeping smelt. That was something we would need to work through.
Mr. Overlock stated it may be that many of the waters that contained smelt where there was an active hand line fishery for smelt, those may be open with the S-11 code to allow the use of live fish as bait. Most of those were probably open to ice fishing.
Mrs. Peet stated even based on all the comments that came in that included Jeff Reardon and Sally Stockwell that sent in some pretty extensive comments we were still deciding not to amend the proposal?
Mr. Brautigam stated those comments fell outside of the scope of the criteria that would apply and that staff had applied. They had also been considered in the first round of the proposal review as well.
Mr. Smith stated he noticed quite a lot of rivers and streams that were open to ice fishing. Why were they open and did people ice fish rivers and streams?
Mr. Frost stated some of the big rivers were open mainly for muskie fishing such as the St. John.
C. Step 1
1. Fishing Regulations/State Heritage Waters 2020
Mr. Brautigam stated the packet contained a number of different areas of interest. He would give the Council a general overview of the packet and both Frank Frost and Jim Pellerin were there to highlight waters in the packet and discuss why the Sebago proposal and Fish River thoroughfares were likely to generate some public interest and discussion. In the packet, we had five new waters we were proposing to nominate for the state heritage fish list. We were also proposing to remove three waters from the list. There was a long history in how waters were nominated to the state heritage fish list. We had developed a system to track heritage waters and the nomination process to ensure the appropriate waters were being nominated and met the criteria and maintain a history of the decision making. On the three waters we were proposing to remove, they were waters that had not been surveyed until recently. After the waters were surveyed no trout were found in any of them. As part of our efforts to provide increased protections to heritage waters we were proposing to add S-4 to tributaries of 19 heritage waters that were located in the southern region. A general law change in the southern region could not be done as we had in the northern region. Use of live fish as bait was ubiquitous and the fisheries were much different in the northern part of the state. Heritage waters in the southern part of the state had to be assigned a special S-code to those waters that had tributaries, there were 19 we were proposing to advance.
Mr. Brautigam stated during the past session the Department received rulemaking authority to extend the ice fishing season. Each time the Department moved forward with emergency rulemaking it created confusion. We decided to take a closer look at the current season structure in the north zone. If it was a water open to ice fishing it was assigned an A or B. The "B" meant it was open to fishing from January 1 - March 31. We were proposing to extend the B and allow people to ice fish from January 1 April 30. By doing that, it should eliminate the need for any future emergency ice fishing extensions. We did not feel there would be many impacts to fishery resources. Where there were, Moosehead and Chamberlain were a couple of those, we proposed modifications on both waters to preclude harvest of salmon and brook trout. This was a great opportunity to further provide more opportunity and eliminate some of the challenges associated with extending the ice fishing season. In addition, we had 18 water specific regulations in the packet, a number of them addressed challenges with trying to manage over abundant lake trout populations. Regional biologists Frank Frost and Jim Pellerin would share information regarding proposals in their area that may generate a number of comments from the public.
Mr. Frost stated he managed over 300 waters in his region with a staff of two and they spent more time on one water, Eagle Lake, than any other in the region. They received a lot of comments and suggestions over the course of a year and one of those was where could they go in the fall to fish for brook trout in streams or flowing water for salmon. In his region they had a lot of wild trout resources they were concerned about fishing in the fall, particularly in October. Bird hunters in October wanted to fish at the same time. There were a number of opportunities in lakes and ponds where they could fish in the fall, but very few in flowing waters. Over the years they had added a couple, Scopan Stream and downstream of Fish River Falls in Fort Kent. The one on the Fish River had really become popular, it was open year-round. We stocked both trout and salmon there and was unique to the region. He thought we had found a situation where they could add more opportunity and anglers could help us meet our fishery management objectives at Eagle Lake, the two thoroughfares flowed into it. Eagle Lake was a high-profile fishery. One of the focal points was the lake trout fishing was known for producing big lake trout and had come on the last few years. Another fishery was the hook and line smelting, it was a third of the total use of some of the lakes in the Fish River Chain. They were trying to maintain some opportunity for hook and line fishing. Eagle Lake was a big salmon water, it had been managed for landlocked salmon for over 100 years. Recently the average size of the salmon was low, 13 which was 3-5 smaller than the target. There was an abundant salmon population. There was a regulation there for almost 4 years where there was no bag limit on salmon under 14. That generated a lot of interest and questions with previous Advisory Council members. Eagle Lake was a general management water, we wanted people to catch salmon that were 16-18 and an occasional fish over 3lbs. The biggest concern was people fishing for wild trout in October while they were preparing to spawn.
Mr. Frost stated a couple of years ago they started a study and radio tagged brook trout in Eagle Lake that they caught in 3 trap nets associated with the two inlets and the outlet. They caught trout 12-16 and distributed the tagged fish equally among the trap nets. It was a labor-intensive project as they physically had to locate the fish and remove the tag. Eagle lake had a number of tributaries and they expected to find the fish up in the tributaries, but that was not the case. Eleven of the fifteen trout went several miles below Eagle Lake. Typically, salmon were outlet spawners in Maine and the trout were doing the same thing. A large percentage of the trout were going to a large pool. When they went to the smaller tributaries they were vulnerable to predation. It may be something they adapted to over a period of time. It answered the question of the two thoroughfares that came into Eagle Lake that there was very little trout spawning there. They felt comfortable moving forward with the rule proposal to allow for year-round fishing and harvest of salmon and help achieve management objectives in Eagle Lake.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Farrington asked if they had stopped stocking salmon in Eagle Lake.
Mr. Frost stated they had not stocked salmon there for 20 years.
Mr. Thurston asked if the public were keeping the fish or practicing catch and release. How effective did Mr. Frost think that was with the anglers.
Mr. Frost stated they followed up and interviewed up to 380 anglers over two years and half of the people were killing everything they caught, and the other half were releasing everything they caught. Use had also declined.
Mr. Overlock stated we had discussed mechanical removal with nets by the Department. Our preference was to not do that unless we really had to. We preferred to have the fish available to anglers.Mr. Thurston stated it seemed we had a messaging problem with respect to what our directive was. If we could have more information at boat launches about the Departments goal it would help.
Mr. Overlock stated we were still living with the messaging from the 70s and 80s when it was killing everything and then we put out the focus of catch and release. Use was declining statewide, people were not keeping fish and it was affecting health of fish in certain lakes and ponds. We were trying to make the switch but there was a messaging problem.
Mr. Pellerin stated we were proposing a regulation change on Sebago Lake. We had a management plan specifically for Sebago with about eight or ten objectives, but the three most important ones he wanted them to keep in mind as he went through his presentation. One was to sustain the abundance of smelt consistent with the lakes carrying capacity. We wanted to have enough forage to be able to support the lake trout and salmon. We also wanted to sustain high salmon growth rates while considering the need to maintain acceptable salmon catch rates. The third was to reduce the competing lake trout population. Sebago was the second largest lake in Maine and was very popular. In the summer there were probably 30,000 50,000 angler trips per year. In the winter 5,000 10,000 angler trips. Lake trout were stocked from 1972 1982. They did not originally exist in the lake. The population became self-sustaining and by the early 1990s it was clear they were impacting the salmon fishery. Not only did they impact salmon, we saw impacts on other fish species. Around 2001, we started liberalizing the lake trout regulations. We had size quality objectives for salmon and we still werent getting there. In 2012 a new lake trout regulation was implemented, no size or bag limit under 23 and a 23-33 protective slot on lake trout, and only one over 33. It was an experimental regulation that was based on work done in Idaho which suggested if we shifted the size quality of lake trout to larger fish, they would predate on themselves. The goal of the regulation was to improve lake trout size quality and also reduce their abundance and the forage pressure they were putting on smelt by top down control which would ultimately improve the salmon size quality.
Mr. Pellerin stated shortly thereafter we were trying to evaluate the lake trout population. We implemented a new assessment tool, Summer Profundal Index Netting (SPIN) developed by the Ontario Aquatic Science Unit. We used the tool in 2016 and 2017 and received data on the lake trout. It shifted the size quality of the lake trout, they improved so that part of the regulation was successful. Lake trout were slow growing and matured at about 8-10 years of age. It took them 14 years to reach the slot size. To reduce the lake trout population, we needed to have about 50% mortality, and we were not close to that. Some of the information we could get from SPIN was a population estimate and a density estimate. In 2016 it was 39,200 and in 2017 it was 43,649. It could suggest the population was growing or just be annual variation. Using other modeling software it suggested we were recruiting about 3,000-5,000 fish per year. We wanted to reduce the population, but it appeared to be growing. The physical characteristics of the lake was providing protection for 75% of the population during the open water season.
Mr. Pellerin stated angler attitudes and perceptions had changed and the catch and release ethic had grown. In the 1970s 100% of legal fish were being kept. Today, about 68% of legal salmon were being released and 52% of lake trout. If people werent harvesting fish the regulation was discounted by 50%. Climate change was also an issue at Sebago. There were shorter ice fishing seasons, there was ice on the lake for a shorter period of time. Five out of nine years the lake was not totally frozen. Winter anglers tended to harvest more fish. In 2019 a creel survey was conducted on the ice and we saw a lot of small togue. There were big fish too, the lake trout fishing was great. In the fall of 2018 we collected salmon data on the spawning run on the Jordan River. Salmon condition had plummeted which indicated a forage issue. In early 2019 we received reports there was a mass exodus of landlocked alewives which was a secondary forage on Sebago. We had seen few baitfish during the creel survey in the winter. K factors were the third worst wed seen in the last 45 years.
Mr. Pellerin stated the salmon catch rates had plummeted since 2013. Data and observations suggested lake trout size quality improved under the protective slot. There had been a substantial decline in salmon catch rates. The current situation we believed we were stockpiling lake trout, the forage base (smelts) had collapsed and we lost the alewives. We also believed the changes in salmon catch rates were directly related to the top down control theory. The large lake trout would shift from smelt and look for bigger food and that was the salmon. Now that the Ks and forage were so low we would start seeing less survival. The proposal was to remove the protective slot on lake trout, no minimum length on lake trout and no bag limit on lake trout less than 26, only 1 over 26.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Thurston asked how we would manage for the bait crisis.
Mr. Pellerin stated we would explore that. To move smelt was quite a process and he did not have those resources in his region. He would reach out to other regions.
Mr. Brautigam stated he felt the regulation change set the stage, but without other efforts and creating incentives for people to keep lake trout and more messaging we were not going to be successful.
Mr. Thurston asked how they arrived at the 1 over 26 regulation proposal.
Mr. Pellerin stated we had a focus group in the Sebago Lake fishing community and presented them with the data. When it was presented to the regulations committee the 1 over was suggested as some protection for the big fish for the lake trout anglers that preferred the larger lake trout.
Mr. Brautigam stated a lot of the fish that were recruited into the old slot would have been about 26 so by setting the new benchmark at 26 we were allowing for the harvest of the fish from the old slot.
V. Other Business
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the Council had received their handbooks. At their next meeting lunch would be provided and an orientation to go over any items they had questions on. They would also talk more about the rulemaking process and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
VI. Councilor Reports
Councilors gave reports.
VII. Public Comments & Questions
Jeff Reardon stated most of his comments were about the relatively few areas where there was still disagreement. The disagreement went back to what the set of criteria was and they would have liked to see watershed connectivity be one of the things considered. They were supportive of the rule and thought it was step in the right direction.
Fern Bosse stated he agreed with what Mr. Reardon had stated about the meeting and the heritage fish. It was a giant step and the crew was doing a wonderful job.
Gary Corson stated he also agreed with what Mr. Reardon had said. He had submitted written comments and was pretty much in support.
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the public hearing for the fishing regulations proposal would be held on July 31, 2019 at IFW. Due to low attendance at public hearings we were trying something new.
Mr. Overlock stated we traditionally held 4 or 5 public hearings across the state and we were not getting the public turnout. We were changing the format and encouraged people to send written comments. We wanted to hear from people, but in a more appropriate way that would not strain our resources.
Mr. Sage asked about live feed for hearings, people could ask questions online.
VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting
The next Advisory Council meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, August 21, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. in Augusta.
A motion was made by Mr. Smith and that was seconded by Mr. Sage to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 12:30 p.m.