Meeting Minutes

February 14, 2023 @ 9:30 a.m.
353 Water Street, 4th floor conference room, Augusta, ME
(and virtually via Microsoft Teams)


Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Mark Latti, Communications Director
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Nate Webb, Wildlife Division Director
Rick Parker, Director of Engineering
Kelsey Sullivan, Game Bird Biologist
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Shelby Rousseau (Vice-Chair)
Eric Ward
Al Cowperthwaite - via Teams
Bob Duchesne - via Teams
Ed Pineau - via Teams Kristin Peet (Chair) - via Teams Mike Gawtry - via Teams Vacant - Hancock County

Brent West, High Peaks Alliance 3 additional public in person 9 additional staff and public online

I. Call to Order

Shelby Rousseau, Council Vice-Chair, called the meeting to order.

I-A. Pledge of Allegiance

II. Moment of Silence

III. Introductions

Introductions were made.

IV. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting
A motion was made by Mr. Pineau to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Duchesne.

Vote: unanimouus in favor - minutes approved.

V. Rulemaing

A. Step. 3

There were no items under Step 3.

B. Step 2

There were no items under Step 2.

C. Step 1

  1. 2023/24 Migratory Bird Seasons

Mr. Sullivan stated the proposal was similar to last year with a couple of exceptions. Most of the waterfowl and game bird populations were pretty stable. On page 3 of the proposal, Section B. Ducks, the south zone and the coastal zone were proposed to start September 30, traditionally it had been October 1. The reason for the change was the coastal zone, we eliminated the sea duck season which effected the coastal zone dates. The coastal zone lost a week in the first segment, and the 30th is a Saturday so it will capture a second Saturday. On page 4, Section C. Brant, this was not a species with much harvest in Maine, but there were some folks that were interested in brant hunting. The winter counts from last year were below the 50/2 season we could have at the federal level, so the season was reduced to 30 days and 1 bird. We could not go any more liberal than that.

Mr. Sullivan had a handout that was associated with the proposal specific to the mallard bag limit. At the federal level it had already been adopted, an increase of 2 mallards per day to 4 mallards per day. In 2019 we went to a 2-bird limit. It was related to the breeding population estimates. In 2019 at the Atlantic flyway level, we went from 4 mallards to 2 mallards. Since then, and the graph showed, there's a modest rebound in breeding population estimates. There was eastern Canada and the northeast United States, there was a compilation of breeding population estimate from aerial surveys and ground counts. In Canada, the breeding population estimate from those aerial surveys increased quite a bit. The model responded pretty well to that estimate so he wouldnt be surprised if in a year or two we would see the 2 bird limit again. We could go more restrictive with the season if we were concerned about mallard populations in Maine, but we werent. We had some breeding mallards in developed areas but in northern Maine there werent a lot of breeding mallards. Mallard harvest was 85% derived from eastern Canada, so if eastern Canada was doing well there was no concern with our harvest levels. That was shown from banding.

Mr. Sullivan stated there was a change in the Canada goose season for the September season. There were two different seasons, the early September and the regular season. The September season was established for the resident Canada goose population. Breeding and nesting geese below this 49th parallel mark separated between what Arctic goose populations were delineated differently, they bred in different areas and had different population trends than the resident geese. The Arctic goose population was not over abundant, but the resident goose populations were considered over abundant. There was a target of 750,000 resident Canada geese below the 49th parallel, and we were at 1.3M. The goal was to bring that population number down through different means, one being harvest. There were also special permits that were given. There was work being done to look at harvest levels and how that effected resident goose population trends. If you harvested greater than 25% you would start to see a downward trend. We had not achieved that 25% harvest level over time. We could afford more harvest in both the southern and northern zones. Folks did not tend to take more than 10 per day. The average was 5 or 6.
The north zone had been at 6 for a long time, and there were people commenting on the discrepancy between the north and south zones and hunting opportunity. They had been asking for an increase over time. The proposal for the north zone for the September season was to go from 6 to 8. Because of the trend of not reaching the harvest level, he was not concerned about effecting goose populations.

Council member comments and questions Mr. Duchesne stated he had received an email from someone who was under the impression the sea duck hunting season had been extended. He did not see that in the proposal.

Mr. Sullivan stated there was no special sea duck season any longer. Sea ducks and regular ducks were lumped into one coastal zone season. He thought we were proposing to go a couple of days longer than we did last year and that was related to when the season started and overlap with the weekend at the end.

Mr. Duchesne stated that he felt it was related to what was happening along the coast, a lot of the sea ducks across the board had disappeared in some places and the numbers seemed to be way down along the entire coast and they were wondering if what the Department was seeing reflected what others had been seeing.

Mr. Sullivan stated it was consistent with what we received for comments from waterfowl hunters and sea duck guides, especially eiders, very low numbers compared to what we were seeing in the past. That was part of the reason why we eliminated the season and reduced the bag limit last year.

Commissioner Camuso asked Mr. Sullivan to go over the process for adopting the migratory bird seasons.

Mr. Sullivan stated there was a separate waterfowl council that was similar to the advisory council in that it was a subset of individuals representing each county in the interest of waterfowl hunters. He met with them prior to developing the rule proposal. That was where the September 30th coastal zone change came from. They provided input more from the waterfowl hunter perspective and requested desires for the seasons. After the comment period for the proposal ended the waterfowl council would communicate with Mr. Sullivan on any recommended changes or they would endorse the proposal.

Mr. Ward mentioned the one public comment that had been received.

Mr. Sullivan stated the comment was advocating for extending the coastal zone season longer into January. If we went with that recommendation, that would affect the front end of the season. Sea duck guides had provided input, the looked at 3-day windows when setting up sea duck hunts, so we tended to avoid breaking that up in the beginning. If we changed, it would affect the sea duck guides. It was only a couple of days longer; the comment was going from the 9th to the 11th of January. That would mean a November 11th start date which was a Friday and would break up that 3-day window.

There were no further questions or comments.

VI. Other Business

1. Legislation Update

Commissioner Camuso updated the Council on some of the bills currently before the IFW Committee. One of the bills dealt with invasive plants, trying to stop the spread of aquatic invasives. It was part of the clean, drain, dry program. The Department testified in opposition, not because we didnt support the concept but there were challenges with the bill as written such as many of the boat ramps did not have adequate space to de-water a vessel. We didnt want the water draining into the clean waters. There were issues around requiring people to drive with the plugs out, etc. This would probably be a carry over bill, and we would probably have a working group try to come up with reasonable solutions. Other bills included modifying the adaptive moose hunt (loss of bonus points); minimum age for hunting; youth lifetime licenses for dependents of veterans, and changes to the endangered and threatened species listing.

Commissioner Camuso stated another bill was dealing with lifetime license holders. In the future, we would have more lifetime license holders than we had annual hunting license holders. We did not currently have an effective way to communicate with those lifetime license holders and for population management we needed to understand how many people were participating in the activity. We were trying to figure out the most effective way to address that. Other bills were regarding adding expanded archery to the Superpack license, and also the public hearing for the budget bill had been scheduled for February 27th. We had about 65 bills that would be before the Committee and we were making good progress.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Ward asked about moving bird hunting back to the first October, was there any mention of that?

Commissioner Camuso stated there were no bills regarding that. Many of the bills submitted this session were "concept draft" which had no language associated with them. None of the titles indicated they were related to bird hunting.

Mr. Duchesne stated there was some controversy regarding ATV clubs and insurance.

Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated there were a couple of bills that had been submitted, but no discussion yet. He was not sure if the bills were pointed towards liability insurance. LD 434 was probably the first bill that would have discussion around money going back to the ATV clubs. We had done research on the states position through Risk Management and the ATV program at ACF. There was a lot of miscommunication about how the clubs viewed what their responsibility was for liability insurance.

There were no further questions or comments.

  1. Fly Rod Crosby presentation The presentation from Brent West was delivered following the close of the Advisory Council meeting.

VII. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VIII. Public Comments & Questions

Mr. Cowperthwaite hed always felt the time a person had to shoot a moose could be longer. Driving the logging roads on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday people were pretty stressed out. It was a quality hunt to hunt a Maine moose and he thought we should figure out a way to give more days, especially the adaptive hunts. Our success rate would be much higher, people wouldn't be so stressed out trying to find a moose.

Claire Perry asked about the sea duck and eider problem, was anyone doing studies on them to find out what was causing the decline.

Mr. Sullivan stated sea ducks were one of the most challenging species to follow and study, especially during the breeding season they were up north in the Arctic. There was a group called the Sea Duck Joint Venture, it was a federal cooperative with state and federal and NGO, academics; they had funding and were doing research on reproductive potential, diets, etc. It was complicated but they were trying. It was a challenge because of habitat and where they were found.

Claire Perry asked if they were offshore feeders or closer to the coastline.

Mr. Sullivan stated they were near coastal but could be offshore. They were divers and feeding on crustaceans mostly in the wintertime. Scoters and long-tailed ducks were more inland feeding on clams and mussels. Eiders were feeding in the summer near coastal on the same kinds of things.

Claire Perry stated she had noted a decline in mussels and sea urchins. She was worried that might be part of it.

Mr. Sullivan stated through banding and harvest information program through USFWS sampling hunters and declines in mussels, habitat, food resources, etc. contributed more to the declines than harvest. We had been reducing hunting seasons for sea ducks over the last 10 years. We tried to accommodate those that used the resource but also recognized there were things we could do to help slow the decline.

Claire Perry asked about seaweed harvesting.

Mr. Sullivan stated it was his understanding it did not contribute on a wide scale enough to effect sea duck populations.

Mrs. Rousseau asked for PFAS update.

Mr. Webb stated we did an extensive sampling effort last summer and fall for both turkey and deer in the greater Fairfield area. The samples were sent to two different labs, we were still waiting for results from the second lab. Based on the preliminary results from the first lab, we believed we would be able to reduce the size of the advisory area substantially, but we were waiting for confirmation from the second lab. There was still a challenge with lab capacity nationwide. We were also working on sampling plans for the next phase which would be east of the Kennebec River. Also, a press release had gone out that we detected avian influenza (AI) in Kennebec County in wild birds for the first time. It was an ongoing issue; we were still seeing mortality. We were working with ACF on messaging to owners of domestic poultry flocks to ensure they kept them separate from wild birds.

There were no further questions or comments.

IX. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting

The next meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, March 28th at 9:30 am at IFW, Augusta.

X. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. Rousseau and that was seconded by Mr. Ward to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 10:30 am.