Meeting Minutes

Advisory Council Meeting
December 18, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.
Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
284 State Street, 2nd Floor Conference Room
Augusta, Maine

Attending:

Chandler Woodcock, Commissioner
Andrea Erskine, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director of Bureau of Resource Management
Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director
Nate Webb, Special Projects Biologist
Mike Brown, Fisheries Division Director
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder

Council Members:

Jeff Lewis (Chair)
Lance Wheaton (Vice-Chair)
Dick Fortier
Sheri Oldham –by phone
Cathy DeMerchant
Don Dudley
Jenny Starbird
Matt Thurston
Larry Farrington

Guests:
Gary Corson, New Sharon
Don Kleiner, MPGA
Georgie Wheaton
James Cote, MTA and Maine Wildlife Conservation Council
Brian Cogill, MTA

I. Call to Order

Jeff Lewis, Council Chair called the meeting to order.

II. Introductions

Introductions were made.

III. Acceptance of Minutes of Previous Meeting

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Wheaton.

Vote: unanimous – minutes approved.

IV. Rulemaking

A. Step 3

There were no items under Step 3.

B. Step 2

1. First Roach pond petition

Commissioner Woodcock stated two years ago the Department approved ice fishing in February on First Roach with limited take. We had been measuring that very carefully and in addition to that the regulation had a sunset provision. At the end of two years there was an automatic sunset provision on the regulation. The sunset provision in this case was meant specifically so that we could review what had happened during the previous two years and the pressure put on the fishery. How were the fish surviving the two years of February only limited ice fishing.

Commissioner Woodcock stated that because of the automatic sunset and the ice fishing being taken away, someone decided to petition to reinstate ice fishing at First Roach Pond because they had a good experience. We accepted the valid petition and went through the process and held a public hearing in Greenville. There were 14 people in attendance. Both sides expressed their strong opinions either for or against the petition. There were some camp owners around the pond who would very much like to see fishing, and there were some who would not. The general consensus of concern when we go about opening up ice fishing is that there would be some type of vandalism to the camps because its such an isolated area. There was no evidence of that that he was aware of. There were some parking concerns because of snow plow limitations there. Traffic was fairly heavy, they did ice fish the pond.

Commissioner Woodcock stated one point that came out to him, indicated by many people was the biological staff should have some input in the decision making process. He had talked with staff and the concern remained not to put First Roach in the same position Moosehead was in for a little while and have too many small togue. The togue created an imbalance in the salmon and the smelt population. In some bodies of the state we were implementing what was referred to as the “Sebago slot” on togue which meant there was a slot limit of 23” – 33” and you had to put them all back. You could keep one fish over 33”. The reason for that slot was that studies showed those fish that were returned in the 23” – 33” category were predators on smaller members of their own species and controlled the size of the fish in the fishery. It’s minimalized and they get bigger, there are very few really large fish because it takes so many years for a fish to grow to 33” and above in the togue. We have had that slot in place and we’re contemplating that for other waters. We’re measuring how Sebago lake and others are faring, but the staff’s concern for First Roach is that you get the imbalance of togue, too many small togue they’re pretty good predators. They’ll take care of the salmon and also have a problem with the smelt population. Staff felt the smelt population was pretty viable, the salmon were growing and biologists would like a full assessment after the two year ice fishing season had gone by which was what the sunset was for. At the end of this year, make his recommendation as to whether or not to go forth with some limited ice fishing or no ice fishing on First Roach.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he also wanted to remind them that there had been a de-watering of the dam between First and Second Roach and the body of water below it, the stream that flows, and because of that there was concern from Tim Obrey and staff about the two and three year salmon population for that three year period out. There was almost no water in that stream for awhile because there were problems with the dam. Given that scenario and he wanted to remind everybody that the Roach River, which was one of our premier salmon and trout fishing rivers, was below First Roach Pond. The impact of First Roach Pond on the river had been discussed for years. The vast majority of those fish came up from Moosehead. First Roach was a separate fishery but had historical significance.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the process after Step 2, it was his job to take all the comments and discussion and biologist input and decide whether it should go to Step 3 or not. It was the Commissioner’s right to halt the process with the petition or other proposals in between Steps 2 and 3 and the Council would not be addressing it if he chose not to move forward with it.

Council Member Comments and Questions

Mr. Fortier stated what he was hearing was that the Commissioner would like to see no ice fishing in Roach Pond for one year to give the biologists time to come back with the data on how to move forward. If they had ice fishing could they still get accurate data doing an assessment of Roach Pond?

Commissioner Woodcock stated the reason why we had the sunset provision was to assess the body of water after two years. Some bodies of water when they had ongoing ice fishing or ongoing open water you assessed ongoing. This had not been ice fished for awhile and even though it was only a one month period ice fishing for togue inparticular was pretty targeted. They did catch some big fish out of there and we would like to be able to know exactly how the balance of the body of water was going. We did not advance the notion that we wanted to have ice fishing continue so we would like to be able to research.

Mrs. DeMerchant stated technically he (Tim Obrey) could have started that assessment on March 1, 2014 and that wasn’t done?

Commissioner Woodcock stated there had been an assessment but the question was did we have enough? Did we have enough to be able to tell specifically how it was affected?

Mrs. DeMerchant stated if the Commissioner decided not to move forward and everything was good and the staff felt it could support it, would a new petition have to go forward?

Commissioner Woodcock stated we would just propose it ourselves as part of the next regulatory packet.

Mr. Thurston asked how many acres was Roach Pond?

Mr. Farrington stated around 467 acres. The concern was the last summer survey was done in 2001. They did a winter survey last winter and they figured they took over 400 lbs. of togue out of the lake in a month. If you added that with the last summer survey they had that was almost a pound of fish per acre which was almost double what the standard was. He thought Mr. Obrey’s concern was if he could have this summer before they fished it out. Although he had results from last winter, the winter before that was much more substantial. They were taking several 10 lb. plus lake trout the first winter. Without the data it was a big risk. He saw what happened in Moosehead in the early 90’s and it was a long time fixing it.

Commissioner Woodcock stated it was a balance we were trying to achieve.

Mr. Dudley stated it was dewatered, was there a fishway in that particular dam?

Mr. Brown stated it was an issue that was still ongoing. The people that owned the site wanted to make some modifications to the dam and some of the specifications we would have liked to see and unfortunately they made it a little taller and wider and they weren’t able to provide the flows they thought they were going to be able to do over the dam. They had some malfunctions with the pumps so unfortunately it brought up a lot of habitat that was there. We’re very concerned about the effects that would have on the fish that had spawned there and what contributions those fish would make to First Roach. Mr. Obrey felt he would have expected about 100 salmon or so would have dropped out of there and contribute to the fishery. We did stock First Roach with salmon so we would be able to make up for some of that. The public probably would not see the impact for salmon. There was not a fishway there that he could remember.

Mr. Dudley stated the salmon dropped back to spawn, then there was no way for them to get back to First Roach?

Mr. Brown stated there was sort of a rock ramp.

Mr. Farrington stated most of the spawning that was done out of First Roach was done between First Roach and Second Roach. The little dam they put in this fall was a little wider and about a foot higher than it should have been. It dried up the area about 1 miles of the wetland where the sand and spawning beds were. The young of the year were still in there because they hadn’t gotten big enough to go into the lake.

Mr. Fortier asked if the water flow had improved.

Mr. Farrington stated it had, and they were still working on it.

Mr. Dudley asked if the salmon could freely travel back into First Roach Pond?

Mr. Farrington stated they went upstream to spawn, the dam was on the end of Second Roach so the spawning took place from the end of the north inlet up to Second Roach.

Mr. Lewis stated the part that everyone fished was from Moosehead up to First Roach. When the ice fishing regulation was passed they understood it would be monitored starting in 2013. It looked like that wasn’t the case and now we didn’t have any information other than basically hearsay what happened that first year.

Commissioner Woodcock stated for the first year of fishing there wasn’t an ice fishing survey done. There was an ice fishing survey done last year. He did not know the product of the first years evaluation and the fact that we did a winter survey at year two, he did not know what the population difference would be. What Mr. Obrey was concerned about was after the two years what did we have for a product right now. He thought that last years survey indicated we had quite a few big fish being taken out in terms of togue in First Roach.

Mrs. Oldham stated just one year of data compared to historic norms would probably not give enough information to make a decision. She thought the decision after two years was just that much more valuable. That was why the two year provision was put in. She thought until that information was gathered that they shouldn’t allow the petition to go forward, or if it did go forward to Step 3 she did not think she would be in favor of it until we had more biologic information.

Mr. Lewis stated he agreed, but in going forward to make sure that we could start it and not lose that first valuable year of data. Something that hadn’t been opened for such a long period of time, it’s a one month season you get a lot more people.

Commissioner Woodcock stated he did think one year of data was enough. Sometimes summer surveys did not tell the story the same way winter surveys did. The targeted fish were sometimes different also. There were a lot of people who enjoyed fishing for cusk on First Roach. There was some conversation internally about having just cusk fishing. He was leery about having one type of ice fishing and not allowing others because hooking mortality of ice fishing was a lot different than open water fishing.

Mr. Farrington stated they had a regulation on Moosehead, he didn’t want to be the mean guy and tell camp owners they couldn’t set a trap out front for their grandson to catch a cusk or a yellow perch, and the regulation would be if a game fish came to the hole it didn’t come out of the water. You could allow them to fish for cusk and perch because they could fish for those a long time before they drained them out.

Mr. Thurston stated he had a small sample of people that had contacted him that were camp owners that were in favor. Did we agree there were a lot of small togue and that issue needed to be addressed and did the open water season address that issue with take?

Commissioner Woodcock stated he was going to rely on the locals for their expertise, but he didn’t think they were getting a lot of small togue being taken in open water season. Historically, it was a hard time at Moosehead getting people to keep small togue. At this point it was not a concern.

Mr. Wheaton stated the releasing of the fish and 23”-33” was good, but what he couldn’t understand was the Moosehead limit of cutting the line and not taking the fish out of the water but yet we allowed stainless steel hooks and brass hooks and painted hooks, etc. If we allowed a mild steel hook for ice fishing the stomach acids would dissolve the hook and the fish would live. If you put a big stainless steel, brass or anything you can release the fish all day and they would go down and die.

Commissioner Woodcock stated that discussion of the type of hook and other parts of the discussion involved with plastic lures, etc. was a legislative discussion in the last session and he was sure it would be again. There was concern for the ability of hooks to disintegrate and some of them doing it better than others.

C. Step 1

1. Licensed Guide Rules Mrs. Theriault stated the rule was held at Step 1 again because we wanted to have the watercraft and guiding rules go hand in hand through the Step process. In the proposal we added a couple of definitions and put the definitions section in alphabetical order. One of the important definitions that was added was paddle sports because we were addressing paddle sports and the need to have a guide license if they were going to take someone out and receive remuneration. The way we chose to have guides licensed was if they were planning to take somebody on a paddleboard out on the ocean and guide them they would need a sea kayak classification so it was geared to the location they were taking them in. If they were going to take them on inland waters on a paddle board they would have to be licensed as a recreational guide. Title 12 references were also updated.

Council member comments and questions

Mr. Fortier asked how one got certified as a paddle sport guide? Who did the certification to decide if they were good enough?

Mrs. Theriault stated it was the same guiding application process that we had currently, but there were specific questions on the test.

Commissioner Woodcock stated all guide testing had an oral and written component to it. We were going to have a practical part of the oral portion upcoming.

Mr. Wheaton stated if we were going to classify it as a watercraft, were we going to make them wear a lifejacket?

Deputy Commissioner Erskine stated the same as a canoe; it had to be on the board. They didn’t have to wear it, but it needed to be available.

Mr. Farrington asked if we had some paddle sport experts to help with the proposal.

Scott Shea stated he ran Sea Spray Kayaking in the mid-coast area. He was attending the meeting for a number of groups. A lot of surf clubs had voiced their opinions to him as well as fitness centers, specifically yoga instructors. The proposal was a step in the right direction. We had been lucky the past few years because anyone could say they were a paddleboard expert and take people out in tidal waters or any waters in Maine. He thought the big question was, is this the right direction? If you talked to rock climbing guides there was no guide license requirement. Paddleboards, he would argue and he thought a lot of surf shops would argue, the surf shops were more knowledgeable about the paddleboard and the skills than most of the recreational sea kayak guides. However, when you got off shore a little bit it was different, but around shore and in the surf it was interesting. We were running into crossovers with paddle sports because you could take them fishing, over night trips to islands, etc. The boards were much more stable than people thought.

Mr. Shea stated the two pieces he thought they may still need to discuss was the whitewater. To be a whitewater guide you had to have a certain number of trips down the Kennebec. If somebody wanted to take somebody down the Kennebec with a paddleboard and guide a group would the recreational guides license address that? The other piece was the surf piece, there was a different set of rules in the surf. You didn’t wear a life jacket, you didn’t put a life jacket on your board it was dangerous because you needed to duck under the surf. If you were up near the surface and the board hit you, you were in trouble. The regulation/enforcement part he thought Marine Patrol and other officers would need some education. A lot of the surfers were using paddles and paddleboards. He thought the surf instructors wanted to make sure they were not going to be harassed throughout the summer because they didn’t have guide licenses. They had paying customers but they were in the surf zone and they were teaching surf with paddles and they didn’t have life jackets.

Mrs. Theriault asked Mr. Shea if he could explain the yoga piece briefly.

Mr. Shea stated they started about 5 years ago doing yoga on the paddleboards and this year they had a regular schedule and it was full. They paddled out to a cove inside one of the little islands and they would paddle out with the yoga instructors and go through the routine and paddle back in. He knew there were several other yoga and fitness centers that people had their own boards and asked the instructor to take them out. He did not think any fitness instructors had any connection with guide regulations but they were out there with paying customers.

Deputy Commissioner Erskine asked if he thought we should consider having a specialized paddle sport classification.

Mr. Shea stated it was very close to that. The ACA had a much better educational system classification in order to get certification. You had to go through a certain number of hours in order to get an instructors certification and they had a specific SUP (standup paddleboard) certification. He thought coming out of that you’d demonstrate a lot more knowledge and skill not only on safety but also regulations.

Mr. Farrington asked if the certification Mr. Shea spoke of was for fresh and salt water?

Mr. Shea stated the ACA had different classifications whether they wanted moving water or flat water.

Mr. Kleiner stated that guiding without a license was a rampant problem in Maine and it had gotten to the place where law enforcement couldn’t deal with it. He had asked the Commissioner to put a working group together to discuss the issues. They needed to discuss under current statute if some of the groups ie: yoga were in or out. Under current statute they were very clearly in. So, they didn’t know but part of him said, I’ve been in business 30 years if I don’t know I don’t get exempt from the law because I didn’t know. Shame on them for not knowing what the law was about their business, it was kind of their job if they’re in the business. A working group was being formed to discuss the issues and this was part of the ongoing conversation, where were the lines and where did it stop.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there were boundaries to this, some of them being very clear. One was head of tide. The Marine Patrol had jurisdiction in the tidal portion and we were inland waters. We had been working with them closely in the discussion. Our responsibility in this arena was when somebody was paid to take a person or a group of people on an activity as a guide they had a responsibility; they were being hired for their professional knowledge and skills. That’s where we entered; we had a responsibility to make sure that person was legit.

Mr. Kleiner stated the whitewater piece, the rapidly flowing rivers were defined and who could do what on the rivers was legislated.

Gary Corson stated he sat on the Guides Advisory Board and they had talked about the issue. Some of it had been addressed. If you looked in the boating laws surfing and surf areas were not required to have a life jacket. More importantly, he felt the Council should understand they tested guides for overall knowledge. That was why they had the classifications hunting, fishing and recreation. If someone came in and said they had done the Kennebec in a canoe, they had no way to know if they had done that or not. The responsibility was up to them, they tested them to the best of their ability with questions. Standup paddle boarding would have questions on the test. Would there be enough questions so if they didn’t get them all right that they still might get the license, that was a possibility. But, whoever go the license they would have some responsibilities. When they talked about the certification process from some of the groups, the Canoe Association, there was nothing to prevent any potential guide from getting that certification. When they came to the Department for their guides license point that out and they should be able to pass the test. He did not feel they had enough time to spend with each candidate unless they started taking them out on the waters and in the woods to find out how proficient they were in all the activities. When thinking about how to address the issue of standup paddleboards that was one activity out of many. If we were going to require certification in each one then it would change the guide testing process a lot.

Commissioner Woodcock stated it would also slow the process down. We had a number of people put through the process, oral and written exams and we were engaging in a more practical sense the oral test. We had a fairly generic process right now and what happened to you after you received that license, there was a lot of burden with that.

Mr. Wheaton stated was a watercraft just a paddleboard or was a watercraft a jetski, the classifications, where did it stop? He had seen trips done on inner tubes. He hated to see the fun taken out of it.

Commissioner Woodcock stated we didn’t want to take away the fun, but at the same time there had to be some application because technically an inner tube was a watercraft. The paddleboard issue was new and we were addressing it. There had to be some type of certification.

2. Boating Regulations

Mrs. Theriault stated there was a summary in the packet. Basically we were proposing a full repeal and replace because there were so many changes within the set of rules. It had been over 30 years since there were any major modifications made to the rule. The reasoning behind it was to bring it up to speed with the code of federal regulations which was the national standard for watercraft regulations that we had to be somewhat consistent with. There were some occasions where a state could change their rules and modify them to their specific needs. In that case we had a difference in our PFD requirements for children. We were more restrictive, but that had always been the case it was not new to the proposal. One of the changes proposed under the registrations was when somebody got a temporary registration the Department had 90 days to turn that around and make a permanent one. Now we would have to abide by a 60 day permanent registration so a boat owner would receive their registration quicker. Also if someone was involved in a property damage only watercraft accident the minimum damage required to report would be $2,000 vs. $1,000, that had increased by federal standards. We were also moving away from classifications of motorboats. We used to have Class A, 1, 2 and 3 and now we would be going by the length of the boats. Another change was the reference to points on a compass when talking about lighting requirements and we were proposing to use degrees of a compass now.

Council member comments and questions

Mr. Wheaton asked about the length for the boats.

Mrs. Theriault stated the classifications, if you looked at the graph it was by length to see what the requirements were.

Commissioner Woodcock asked if it was any different than what was currently required in terms of the lighting. His understanding was we were making it easier for people who move boats from state to state to make the regulations uniform.

Mrs. Theriault stated we were trying to simplify the language in many cases to make it easier to understand.

3. Spring turkey hunting WMDs 1-6 

Ms. Camuso stated we were scheduled to open WMDs 1-6 last spring for the first time for a turkey hunt and due to extreme winter weather conditions the Commissioner closed that. Right now it was scheduled to be open for the first time and this proposal would split the 5 week season into two groups. If you were born in an even year you would hunt the first and third week and if you were born in an odd year you would hunt the second and fourth week and then everyone could hunt the fifth week. The next year those would switch so everybody would have access to the first week. The reason behind it was primarily a landowner issue and there were still limited huntable populations of turkeys in Aroostook County. Prior to the season opening last year staff along with the National Turkey Federation did some workshops to talk to people about turkeys and how to hunt turkeys. There was still significant concern about limited resource and access to the turkeys would be problematic for some of the landowners primarily. There was worry that there would be too many hunters in limited areas at a time of year when the road conditions were still pretty poor. The other contributing factor was the disease that turkeys had, the LPV disease and avian pox had hit the turkey population statewide and we had not done any trap and transfer as we did not want to spread that disease. Right now it was not in Aroostook County and we had not done any trap and transfer in Aroostook County for 3 years. When we originally proposed opening Aroostook County it was with the idea that we were going to continue to do trap and transfer. She did not foresee that we would be trapping and transferring turkeys into Aroostook County at least for the next couple of years. This rule was primarily designed to alleviate some landowner concerns for too many hunters in a limited area. Historically, this was how we always opened WMDs up until 2007. When we opened a new WMD for turkey hunting in the spring we opened it with an A/B season.

Council member comments and questions

Mr. Fortier stated last year after bringing up the issue of the landowners and having a lot of people up there never having hunted turkeys before and it became a concern there was quite a concentration of these turkeys basically on 4 or 5 landowners property and hunters going on their land at a time when it was still wet. Property damage became a real concern. This year it seemed those turkeys that were there had disbursed much better.

Commissioner Woodcock stated the start of this process with the landowners really was an important point for everybody to consider. They were big landowners and had large properties and we used them for other activities and we wanted to make sure they were content.

V. Other Business

Mr. Lewis discussed the annual report that he would present to the IF&W Committee and asked Council members to get their reports in to him.

Commissioner Woodcock stated there was an error in the new fishing law book. The regulations were correct, but page 23 and 24 were misplaced in the book. The color code was correct for the region so the pages would be easier to detect. This would not require a reprint and the books had already been distributed. We would put out notification. The number of books affected was minimal and there was no regulatory impact.

VI. Councilor Reports

Councilors gave reports.

VII. Public Comments & Questions 

There were no public comments or questions.

VIII. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting 

The date and location of the next meeting would be forwarded to the Council at a later time.

IX. Adjournment

A motion was made by Mrs. DeMerchant and that was seconded by Mr. Wheaton to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m.