Advisory Council Meeting
August 21 , 2019 @ 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (upstairs conference room)
284 State Street, Augusta
Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Bob Cordes, Special Projects Coordinator
Mark Latti, Communications Director
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Joe Overlock, Fisheries Management Supervisor
Diano Circo, Chief Planner
Dave Chabot, Landowner Relations
Steve Allarie, Warden Service Corporal
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Matt Thurston (Chair)
Jerry Scribner (Vice-chair)
Fern & Sylvia Bosse, Norway
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Jeff Reardon, Trout Unlimited
Matt Scott, Belgrade
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. Conroy Lake open to ice fishing petition
Mr. Brautigam stated this was a water we received a petition to open to ice fishing in the winter months. It was a small, 25-acre pond and initially we had some reservations because of the small size and considering the management of the water. A public hearing was held in June and 13 public members attended speaking in support to open the water up to ice fishing. The Department was supportive of the proposal after hearing that parking issues there had been resolved. One of the camp owners there that owned a small business had graciously allowed the public to park there. A management summary had been provided. It was managed as a stocked fishery. There were not any wild fish resources there other than smelt. The Department was proposing to amend the proposal by adding a 2-line limit to spread out the catch over the course of the winter months. The petitioner had been informed of the change and he was supportive.
A motion was made by Mr. Smith to adopt the proposal as amended and that was seconded by Mr. Sage.
Vote: unanimous - motion passed.
2. Wild Trout Conservation Strategy - N Zone General Law Concept
Mr. Brautigam stated we held an initial public hearing in February and based on public comment received, there were concerns about how the Department consistently applied the criteria to identify exceptions between all the regions. The regulation proposal was pulled back, and the criteria was refined to provide consistency throughout the state. A second public hearing was held in June and at that meeting we had support for the proposal in general. The refined proposal reduced the number of exemptions by 84 waters bringing it to 339 waters that would retain the use of live fish as bait in the north zone. There were no changes to the original proposal being proposed.
A motion was made by Mr. Sage to accept the proposal as presented, and that was seconded by Mr. Cowperthwaite.
Vote: unanimous - motion passed.
B. Step 2.
1. Fishing Regulations/State Heritage Waters 2020.
Mr. Brautigam stated the packet contained a number of different initiatives. We were proposing to add five additional waters to the state heritage fish list; remove three waters from the list; add the no live fish as bait initiative to tributaries of all heritage waters in the south zone; and proposing to extend the ice fishing season in the north region by one month as a strategy to avoid the need for further emergency rulemaking as in past winters. There were eighteen water specific rule proposals. A public hearing was held on July 31, 2019 with only four public members attending. Overall, comments were supportive. About 20 written comments had been received. A summary of public concerns had been compiled with agency responses. There appeared to be three areas that warranted additional discussion. The extension of the ice fishing season, Grand Lake Stream proposal and the Fish River thoroughfare had all generated some debate.
Mr. Brautigam stated the last few years we'd had long ice fishing seasons and early starts to open water fishing season, and we had been going through emergency rulemaking to either extend the ice fishing season or start the open water fishing season earlier. It created confusion with the public and the past winter, we had businesses wanting to know how long the season would be extended so they would know how much bait to carry. We had bait dealers wanting to know how much bait they should be collecting to hold for the extended season. We decided is was worth looking at whether we could extend the season by one month to capture the potential of any season extension and determine if that would have any impact on the resource. We looked at where we had resource concerns where there were brook trout populations and salmon fisheries that could potentially be affected by an extended season on an annual basis. We determined the only places we had resource concerns were in waters where we had low populations of brook trout or low populations of salmon and places where we had elevated levels of use. Ice fishing in Maine in any given season started out with heavy use and tapered off and by March people couldnt wait till spring. We did provide, this past winter, the opportunity to fish during the extended ice fishing season and did not see a lot of use. We evaluated use during the extended season in Region F and about 62% of the waters that we had conducted aerial angler counts we saw no use during the extended season. There were three waters where we saw some use pretty much only on the weekends. Looking at the amount of use on those three waters, Schoodic was less than 1% of the total season; Sebois the extended season provided 6.3% use; Upper Jo Mary we saw 3.5% use occurring during the extended season. The pressure was low, harvest potential was low and it was not a concern from a resource standpoint. In April, in northern Maine, the woods roads were starting to break up, the conditions were poor for travel and would further restrict where anglers could and couldnt go. Many of the waters open to ice fishing in the north zone were places where we had abundant populations of brook trout and many of the waters were stocked. We didnt believe there were any resource issues or concerns. We would continue to monitor if we found waters where we saw more harvest than we would like we could advance special regulations to address those issues.
Council Member Questions and Comments
Mr. Sage asked if there were any benefits for the fish to have that break between the seasons.
Mr. Brautigam stated he felt there was inherent break that occurred just with declining use over the course of the ice fishing season. The remote waters would probably receive no pressure. At Moosehead and Chamberlain we implemented a catch and release during the extended season to protect those resources.
Mr. Farrington stated as an advocate for Moosehead Lake, there was a very small percentage of people that would be out fishing. Were those people worth the chance for the increase in mortality that would happen to the salmon and brook trout. Although the regulation stated not to bring the fish out of the hole, we didnt have enough wardens to watch them to make sure nobody brought the fish out of the hole. People would bring them out to take photos on the ice and then try to put them back down the hole. The regulation would not stop people and would not help the resource. There also was a safety issue for people going on Moosehead in April. There were places that did not freeze all winter.
Mr. Brautigam stated we had the same safety issues in southern Maine. Most places there you could fish 24/7, 365 days a year. People had to exercise personal accountability. We had pulled a number of safety related regulations from the book a few years ago. In the past you could not fish at night except on certain cusk waters. We were not developing regulations specifically to focus on public safety. With regard to additional harvest on Moosehead, if we felt down the road that the extension was having any impacts on the resources we could shut that down.
Mr. Farrington stated looking at the extended season, how long had it been an issue, three years out of the last 150? Was it really an issue? We had always ended the season on March 31 and that seemed to work. He did not see a reason to extend another month for 25 people.
Ms. Rousseau stated she had been hearing the same kind of concerns on the Fish River thoroughfare area regarding the extended season for ice fishing.
Warden Allarie stated southern Maine where he patrolled was totally different than the north so he couldnt comment on that. It was 24/7 that you could fish in southern Maine. He saw their points on the extended season, it would push the envelope concerning safety at some point but where did we draw the line.
Mr. Scribner stated he was part of the small minority that took advantage of the extended ice fishing season in April. He was fishing Porter two weeks into the season and there was still 22 inches of ice. The resource should be the overriding factor. He thought probably when the Department first came out with the January 1 - March 31 ice fishing season there was a safety factor that was considered and built into that. With the changing weather patterns we had now it seemed the Department was backing away from safety and putting the responsibility where it belonged, on the fisherman vs. trying to legislate safety. At Moosehead, if there was a legitimate concern regarding fish being taken out of the hole, if there could be a modification there so the resource got the additional protections, if needed, then so be it.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated he lived in Houlton next to the lake which was a popular ice fishing destination until about March 20. On a weekend in January or February there might be 20-30 parties in front of his house, but towards mid-March it died off. They had an ice out contest and generally the ice didnt go out until after May 1. For Aroostook County he felt it would provide a little bit of opportunity for some people. He did not feel a lot of people took advantage of it. He did not feel we should not allow people to fish because they might get hurt or go in the water. Moosehead may be an exception, but he was in favor of extending the season until the end of April. Bait was an issue during the extended season that year however.
Mr. Brautigam stated Grand Lake Stream was nationally renowned for its salmon fishing and supported one of the four indigenous populations of landlocked salmon in Maine. There was a long history there. What was interesting about Grand Lake Stream was before everything was dammed up in the St. Croix there was a lot of spawning habitat there for salmon. After the flowages were freed it lost a lot of spawning habitat. That resulted in the constructions of Grand Lake Stream hatchery and it was the hatchery and our stocking that maintained the viability of the strain in the drainage. There was very little natural reproduction there. We used that strain in about 80% of our statewide stocking for salmon. About a year ago, the Department received a request from the Grand Lake Stream guides association to explore opportunities to extend fall fishing there. Currently, we had an extended season that allowed for fishing in Grand Lake Stream until the 20th. They suggested the fish had just not been coming into Grand Lake Stream as they had in the past. It was not because they were spawning later, we had spawning records. The flows had not been there, wed had drought like conditions in the fall and the fish had not been moving into Grand Lake Stream. It was effecting local business for the Guides and others so they were looking to explore if we could extend the fishing there by another five days.
Commissioner Camuso asked when the fish spawned.
Mr. Brautigam stated the salmon were typically spawning there by October 28. The fishing season was currently open until the 20th. We were proposing to extend the season until the 25th while the fish were moving in from both West Grand and Big Lake, and they were spawning. It really represented a small percentage of either fishery. West Grand represented about 5% of the total fishery. 95% of the fishery was sustained by stocked fish, but they were spawning and contributing. He thought that was where some of the public comments were coming from, they thought they were wild fish and needed protecting. In light of the changing conditions we seemed to be experiencing, he did not believe there would be any impact on our management of the resource if we extended the season an additional 5 days. It would help support a small economy there that was pretty dependent on the fishery.
Mr. Farrington asked why the 20th was originally chosen as the cutoff date.
Mr. Brautigam stated he thought it had been earlier and there was a compromise made a number of years ago with the Grand Lake Stream guides because they were interested in extending the fishing opportunity as they were now.
Mr. Farrington stated he still felt fishing over a wild fish hatchery during spawning season, even if it was only 5-10 percent of the fishery, that was fish being killed. He thought it was Dave Boucher that wrote the book stating any fish caught during spawning season had potential to reduce production by at least 50% even if it was released. If the guides were dependent on five more days to stay in business, they probably should get into a different business.
Mr. Sage stated it sounded like the decision was being made for businesses not what was best for the resource.
Mr. Brautigam stated we wouldnt propose it if we felt there was going to be an adverse impact on our ability to manage the resource. What it meant was, were we willing to give up a small percentage of that wild recruitment piece in order to provide some additional use opportunity and support the local businesses in the area.
Mr. Thurston asked of the comments, how many were in favor of the extension and how many were opposed.
Mr. Overlock stated it was a close split.
Mr. Thurston stated he would like to follow up on two things. Was the statistic of the book Mr. Farrington cited, they could reduce their spawning by 50%, was that a realistic number in Mr. Brautigams mind. Most of the gentleman there were severely catch and release and very well focused. The last thing they would want to do is harm a fish.
Mr. Brautigam stated from a management standpoint if we needed that reproduction there to maintain the population we would not extend the fishing opportunity.
Mr. Duchesne stated whenever he went to Grand Lake Stream he thought about how difficult it was for the people to stay in business. Most of the sporting camps had been on the market for years and it was really hardscrabble right now. If there was not a lot of pressure on the resource and there was an opportunity to make a little more money and stay in business, he would tend to side that way.
Mr. Brautigam stated the Fish River thoroughfares was really two thoroughfares between Eagle Lake and Square and Eagle Lake and St. Froid. The two thoroughfares provided very high-quality spawning habitat for salmon and some for brook trout but not nearly as good. Brook trout were not using the thoroughfares for spawning they were using the outlet. There was an 8-9 mile outlet that was high quality brook trout and salmon spawning. There was an overabundance of salmon in the lower system. There were some comments suggesting there was occasionally a big fish caught in one of the thoroughfares and that occasionally did happen. The residents that were fishing there, the prospects were not very good the fish were between 10"- 12. It was a poor-quality fishery and was not experiencing the level of use that it could. The proposal was an effort to increase harvest opportunity and reduce spawning success and recruitment of the wild fish. It was proposed in two tributaries where we had abundant salmon spawning habitat, but not abundant brook trout spawning habitat.
Mr. Brautigam stated the proposal was to go year-round with unlimited salmon under 14 and 2 over 14. The reality was, we currently had the rule in place from April September. Going to the rule year-round was providing additional opportunity to harvest in October and November. It would be adding a couple of months for people to harvest fish that we wanted removed from the system. If we could not come up with a system for anglers to harvest the fish, another mechanism would have to be developed to reduce the abundance of salmon there. It provided a unique opportunity for additional angling at that time of year in a place that did not have much opportunity for fishing in the fall.
Ms. Rousseau stated she did not know the area but had been getting the responses on the proposal. A couple of individuals that lived in the area had constant communication with her. She wanted to make sure their concerns were expressed. One of them was concerned about the extension of the season, he cared less about the extension for ice fishing but into the fall he was very concerned because it was an area with a lot of bird and deer hunting and he was concerned about lack of available law enforcement. He was also concerned about the gene pool. He also thought harvesting fish over reds was unethical. Another concern was it seemed the area was putting too much precedence on opportunity for anglers vs. better science.
Mr. Thurston asked what progress had been made there?
Mr. Overlock stated we were close to where it had always been. The liberal regulation on the lake had been there for about four years. We felt we needed to do more to effect change there in a timely manner.
Mr. Thurston asked if we felt we could get to where we wanted to be there with just this process alone? Messaging was huge in getting people to start keeping those fish.
Mr. Brautigam stated it was a step to get where we wanted to be. We probably needed to be more aggressive in trying to reduce the population.
Mr. Farrington asked what the regulation was on the lake that supported the thoroughfares as far as removal of salmon. What about the stream? That was a reproduction area where they would be hooking spawning fish.
Mr. Brautigam stated on the two thoroughfares you could have unlimited salmon under 14 and 2 over 14. We were good with them catching the spawning salmon we would like to reduce population whether it was the small or big ones.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated he was in support of the proposal, he felt the Department had done a good job trying to create opportunity for the anglers and removing the fish could only help the entire population.
Mr. Duchesne stated when he thought of the area he thought of the hunting that went on in the area and they couldnt do it on Sunday. To be able to have a resource they could aggressively go after on Sunday to him suited the economys needs well.
C. Step 1
1. Ch. 5 Water Access Rules
Mr. Circo stated our water access program started in 1984. We had never had specific rules for our water access sites. There was a period of time the Department assumed the Wildlife Management Area rules could apply to our water access sites. We talked to the Attorney General and that was not true. The proposed rule would clarify that issue. We utilized the existing rules being used by Parks and Lands and modified them to fit our needs.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Mr. Sage asked why it included shooting ranges.
Mr. Circo stated that was the text for shooting ranges that already existed in rule. There were some places where water access sites were added. We did not change anything for shooting ranges.
Mr. Circo stated that was the text for shooting ranges that already existed in rule. There were some places where water access sites were added. We did not change anything for shooting ranges.
Mr. Sage asked if those were state owned shooting ranges.
Mr. Circo replied, correct. Once of the reasons the rule was put together was some enforcement challenges wed had in the past. Without rules in place it put wardens in a difficult position. Without the rules in place the only charge we had if the site was posted, we could go through a criminal process which was difficult and the state did not like to process a criminal charge for some of the things we were seeing. The rule would allow the charge to be a misdemeanor and simpler for the wardens to administer in the field.
Mr. Farrington asked the purpose of the power boat loading? Anyone that had a pontoon boat or most of them drove them onto a trailer, would that be considered power boat loading.
Mr. Circo stated that was power loading. The issue was where our ramps extended out into the water, often if you were power loading you were creating quite a bit of cavitation underneath the water which would blow out the sediment and any of the subsurface substrate that was around the planks. It would blow a hole in the bottom behind where the planks were so someone backing in a trailer would drop into a hole. It also blew material from around the concrete planks and over time cause them to shift. Power loading was something we tried to prevent. It was an issue with high horsepower boats. When we reconstructed sites we tried to extend the ramp to try and limit that where we had the depth to do so.
2. Ch. 13 Watercraft rules (permanent adoption of emergency rule)
Commissioner Camuso stated this was a regulation the Council voted on previously. This was a rule to allow the Department to enforce noise on watercraft. When the rule was sent for adoption we realized the rule inadvertently limited the authority to inland waters. DMR also used our watercraft rules as well and we had removed their authority. The Secretary of State held that rule and we passed an emergency rule that eliminated the inland only restriction. Because emergency rules were only in effect for 90-days we had to go through the process of permanently adopting the corrected rule.
V. Other Business
There were no items under Other Business.
VI. Councilor Reports
Councilors gave reports.
VII. Public Comments & Questions
Deputy Commissioner Peabody stated the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) was holding a public meeting in Danforth regarding the Forest City Dam. Woodland Pulp filed to surrender their license to the dam. When you surrendered a license you either locked the gates or pulled the gates. It was pretty controversial and it was a big deal that they were coming to gather information from the public. The meeting was scheduled for August 28, 2019 at 3:30pm at Danforth High School. There would be a panel discussion where Mr. Brautigam would be available for fisheries issues. It would affect water levels through Orient. Also, the Governor had formed an ATV Task Force to study ATV trail use issues. The first meeting had been scheduled for September 5, 2019. The scope of work was to look at landowners and ATV users and how they interacted and try to come up with a resolution for use of private lands and appropriate trails.
Gary Corson stated he would like to comment on the Fish River thoroughfares. He supported what the Department was proposing. If we wanted all the salmon removed we should look at the stocking in the watershed. There was three feet of elevation between them. To think you could stock one of the lakes with salmon and not have that effect a lake that was three feet in elevation difference, we needed to look at that especially on waters with regulations where we wanted to reduce the populations.
Jeff Reardon stated he was pleased to see the no live fish as bait proposal come through to the end. He did not have an issue with removal of salmon out of the Fish River chain. He also did not have concern with extending the ice fishing season in terms of impacts on the fishery. He was concerned with the unintended consequences on brook trout that were also in those systems and werent in the same biological state. His concern with the Fish River chain, he suspected based on telemetry studies they had seen elsewhere that brook trout moved around in the system particularly early in the spring and late in the fall they were concentrated in limited areas. When people found those areas they may become very popular fisheries. If they became popular in the Fish River chain, some may ask why they could not fish post spawn brook trout in Rapid River. There were lots of short salmon elsewhere as well. A policy should be in place for where and when the regulation was used and monitor for unintended consequences.
Mrs. Smith stated she had concerns with the turkey population. They were not seeing as many turkeys in their area.
Commissioner Camuso stated the Governor had called the Legislature back in session to vote on bond issues. The land bond issue would be one of those. There would be four bond packages for them to vote on. The Land for Maines Future program (LMF) was the land bond issue that the Governor was requesting a $20 million bond to reinstate LMF funding. The program was currently below $1 million that hadnt been obligated for projects. The LMF program had been historically overwhelmingly popular with the public and a successful program for wildlife habitat conservation. No more than $10 million per year could be spent according to the bond language. There were many opportunities to provide acquisitions. Her personal preference would be that some of that money be used in proximity to population centers rather than a four-hour drive for people. People wanted access to hunting and fishing near to where they lived.
VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting
The next Advisory Council meeting was Scheduled for Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 9:30 a.m. at IFW Augusta.
A motion was made by Mr. Farrington and that was seconded by Mr. Smith to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:00 a.m.