ADVISORY COUNCIL MEETING
August 4, 2022 @ 9:30 a.m.
353 Water Street, 4th floor conference room, Augusta, ME
(and virtually via Microsoft Teams)
Attending:Judy Camuso, Commissioner
Timothy Peabody, Deputy Commissioner
Christl Theriault, Assistant to the Commissioner
Jim Connolly, Director of Bureau of Resource Management
Francis Brautigam, Director of Fisheries and Hatcheries
Joe Overlock, Fisheries Management Supervisor
Frank Frost, Regional Fisheries Biologist
Bob Cordes, Wildlife Special Projects Coordinator
Dan Scott, Colonel, Maine Warden Service
Becky Orff, Secretary/Recorder
Ed Pineau - via Teams
Tony Liguori - via Teams
Jennifer Geel - via Teams
Gary Corson, New Sharon - in person
4 additional staff and public online
I. Call to Order> Commissioner Camuso 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. Cowperthwaite to approve the minutes of the previous meeting and that was seconded by Mr. Ward.
Vote: unanimouus in favor - minutes approved.
A. Step. 3 There were no items under Step 3.
B. Step 2. There were no items under Step 2.
C. Step 1. 1. Fishing regulations & State Heritage Fish Waters 2023
Mr. Brautigam stated the focus of the 2023 fishing regulations packet involved management initiatives of about 131 statewide. The packet contained three parts, a quick reference listing of all the waters with a pending rule change, a summary of the different management themes used to bundle the fishing regulations and a list of all the pending rule proposals. In the last few years, we had been bundling all our fishing regulations by regulatory theme and that was to create improved orientation to the content within the packet to help support review by the Council and general public.
Mr. Brautigam stated there were 11 different themes that captured the 131 rule proposals:
State Heritage Fish Waters - The Department had legislative direction to list state heritage fish waters which are waters that support self-sustaining populations of brook trout and arctic char in lakes and ponds that had either never been stocked or haven't been stocked in the last 25 years. We had 3 waters we were proposing to add to the list.
Special Need - Management initiatives, typically in response to dramatic events, an emerging situation requiring adaptive rule changes, or needs not addressed by other regulatory themes (for example, addressing impacts of summer/winter fish kills, changes in management focus, or more complex and comprehensive initiatives). We had 3 proposals in that category
Salmonid Growth and Performance These are waters where salmonid size quality, condition, and overall population health has declined or is not meeting management goals and objectives. This is often associated with populations where reduced angler use, reduced forage, and/or reduced harvest have allowed population growth to exceed carrying capacity required to attain size quality management objectives; or in some cases, where previous management strategies have failed to meet desired objectives. We had 15 proposals in this theme.
Expanded Angler Use Opportunity - Creation of new or expanded seasonal fishing opportunities (including fall fishing, year-round fishing, or winter opportunities) commonly associated with stocked waters that would provide meaningful public use opportunities supported by the angling public. We had 5 proposals in this category.
S-8 (restricted to two lines per person) These are waters regulated under a two-trap limit. Back in the 1980's, Special Code S-8 (Restricted to two lines per person) was applied to several waters open to ice fishing that were seeing high use and harvest levels, with the intent of spreading the catch out over the winter season. Regional fisheries staff conducted a statewide review of all S-8 waters and identified several where the two-line limit is no longer necessary, typically due to reduced angler use and harvest. The proposals in this theme would all revert to the general law line limit of five lines per person while ice fishing and two lines per person while open water fishing. There are 7 proposals in this theme.
Partial and Complete Simplification to General Law - The themes identify waters with portions of special regulations to manage for different management needs including where we might have stocking programs that have been eliminated or where there were shifts in angler use where special regulations were no longer warranted so a part of the special regulation is removed. A compliment to that is complete removal from the lawbook. We may have changes in access or stocking programs that no longer warrant the special regulations there. In some cases, it was just a matter of the regulations being very antiquated and should have been removed previously.
Errors, Conflicts and Confusion - A significant effort has been made to correct previously identified issues related to conflicting regulations, inconsistencies, inadvertent omissions, errors, and confusing regulations that have also created challenges for mapping special regulations in the Fishing Laws Online Angling Tool (FLOAT). This theme is retained from year to year to correct any newly identified issues. There were 5 proposals in this theme.
New Special Regulation Listing - Proposals in this theme are typically advanced to support new or recent stocking and management programs with a specific management goal or concern addressed by the special regulation.
Transition to "Only 1 brook trout may exceed 12 inches" and Transition to "Only 1 brook trout may exceed 14 inches" These reflected the Departments effort to move forward and phase out the traditional S-16 and S-17 brook trout slot limits. They were in place on many of the remote brook trout ponds and had been quite effective over the years improving size quality in those waters but they lacked flexibility that we needed to effectively manage some of those waters. We were working on modified slot regulations to better address the need for more flexibility. Each of the current slot length limits, the S-16 and S-17, created a 2-fish fixed bag limit and they also set and established a very high minimum length limit of 10" for 1 and 12 for the other. Each of the slot regulations allowed for harvest of only 1 fish over 14 or 1 fish over 12.
The new approach being proposed involved retaining the 1 fish over 12 and 1 fish over 14 but providing flexibility on bag limits. If we had a 2-fish bag limit, that was the only option under existing slots, we sometimes had the need to liberalize harvest in order to achieve our management objectives so we were looking for flexibility to have either a 2 or 5 fish bag limit. We were also removing the high minimum length limit of 10 and 12 and going back to the 6 minimum general law.
Mr. Brautigam stated there were a couple of other points he would like to highlight regarding the packet. We had made a number of changes to the format of the fishing regulations packet and hoped the public found it easier to review. We also added two additional pieces of content to the packet to provide more information to the public, so we now had a management history background for each proposal and management goals and objectives. The proposal had been advertised and the comment period was open until September 1. A public hearing was scheduled for August 22nd.
Mr. Brautigam stated he had invited regional biologist Frank Frost from the Ashland office to give a presentation to highlight some of the changes that we were seeing in angler use on waters in the northern part of the state. Many of the regulation themes that were outlined reflected the fact we were seeing changes in angler use and harvest patterns. As a result, they would be seeing more fishing regulations focused on liberalization of harvest opportunities.
Regional biologist Frank Frost gave a PowerPoint presentation on proposed changes for his region (for a copy of the presentation please contact firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Mr. Frost stated in Region G they had 51 proposed changes, so he thought it would be good to talk about the data they had for justifying those changes. This was all data specific to northern Maine (Region G). Back in the mid-90s they had an internal committee look at brook trout populations and what was happening as far as harvest and use, and they were seeing overharvest of many populations. 1980-1990 had major increase in use and harvest and was documented in Department surveys as well as University of Maine questionnaires showing huge increases in use and harvest. By the early 1990s the fisheries division had internal committees that came up with four classes of trout, the S-16, S-17, S-19 and general law. There was also the "quality fisheries initiative that then Commissioner Bucky Owen initiated. Each region selected waters where they had highly restrictive regulations and those were the S-18 waters. Those were their very best waters where they thought they might produce trophy trout that exceeded 18.
Mr. Frost stated the objective of that effort from 1994 and 1995 was to protect wild brook trout to spawning size (around 10), protect the older genetically important fish, prevent overharvest and account for the variable growth rates across waters. All of the rules were put into place in 1996. In 2001, Mr. Frost put together data from a couple of waters, Third Wallagrass Lake and Square Lake for salmon and brook trout. They wanted to evaluate the changes made in 1996 and they had voluntary survey records going back to the early 80s and fall trap netting. They found the rules did really well, their overall catch rate at Square Lake increased 75% and those were trout that were 6 20. They noted the biggest change in trout that were less than 12, up 142% and the catch rate went up for trout over 12. They also saw a big increase in fish over 18. On Third Wallagrass they shifted harvest from 6 to 10 trout, the angler catch rates increased significantly and they went from 6- 11 trout to 10 16 trout. They started to see declines in growth and condition of the fish. It was a K factor condition, and it was an important thing for anglers for the attractiveness of the fish they caught. Looking at S-18 waters, those were also implemented in 1996 a few were later. There were 10 of those waters we were proposing to change.
Mr. Frost discussed the charts and graphs in his presentation. In summary, they had 51 rule proposals on their best trout fisheries in northern Maine. They wanted to relax the length restriction slightly, the 2 slot to a 4 6 slot going back to the general law and relax the length restrictions on the S-18 waters, that was a more significant change going from an 18 to 14 minimum. Given the trends in angler use and behavior these changes were justified. The catch and release ethic had really picked up over the last 20 years and we received a lot of angler complaints on the narrow 2 slot which we tried to respond to in recent years and this year wanted to make some of those widespread changes.
Council Member Comments and Questions
Commissioner Camuso asked what an ideal K factor would be for trout.
Mr. Frost stated we typically felt a trout should be around 1. In the mid-80s it was just over 1, but we liked to see brook trout that were up around 1.
Mr. Ward stated he felt it made sense especially in the wintertime that narrow slot, if you hooked a fish hard that was less than 10 or 12 it was doomed anyway.
Mr. Frost stated if you fished with the 10 to 12 slot and tried to measure fish it was difficult. We had a lot of complaints over the years. The decline in use had been significant. When the changes were implemented in the mid-90s use was much higher. Some stocked waters in convenient locations were seeing higher use though.
Mr. Cowperthwaite stated the gas prices may be contributing to the decline in activity.
Mr. Ward asked how many of the S-8 in total were there, 2-lines in the wintertime?
Mr. Overlock stated he felt there were 20ish waters statewide.
Mr. Brautigam stated most of those we were retaining were on really small ponds, just to manage the harvest over the season.
Mr. Pineau asked how Mr. Frost came up with the numbers on what the difference was between the 80s catch and release to todays catch and release?
Mr. Frost stated the 80s information was a summary from some University of Maine studies and the internal committee in the mid-90s reviewed that. He picked up in 1995 and moved forward from there. The surveys, over the 10-year period, really documented some huge increases in angler use and harvest. They were in the 150% to 200% increase over the 10-year period.
There were no further questions or comments.
VI. Other Business There were no items under Other Business.
VII. Councilor Reports Councilors gave reports.
VIII. Public Comments & Questions
Commissioner Camuso stated she had a few updates for the Council. We had started the process for developing the 2023-2024 budget. The Northwoods Law throwdown baseball game fundraiser between Maine wardens and New Hampshire wardens took place on Saturday, July 30, 2022. Proceeds from the event went in support of Operation Game Thief. Maine wardens won the game! She discussed recent warden service searches and the upcoming employee recognition events.
Gary Corson asked about the S-16 and S-17, were they being eliminated?
Mr. Brautigam stated we were transitioning away from those.
Mr. Corson stated he fully supported that. He thought it gave more flexibility and doing away with the 2 slot was a good thing. The additional information in the packet was going to be useful. He also found a link on the fisheries page that dealt with the process of changing fishing rules and he thought it was well done and thought it would be very useful. The public would have a better understanding of the whole process of when the rules were initiated to public participation with the Advisory Council. He suggested the information be moved to the website homepage to direct them to the process so people were aware. He asked Mr. Frost about the data he was going through on the Waterway, when were those regulation changes done and when would the data be available?
Mr. Frost stated he believed the changes had occurred in 2016 or 2017. Some of the data was from spring 2022 when they trap netted the fishway up until July. It should be available by next winter to allow for two summers of trap netting.
IX. Agenda Items & Schedule Date for Next Meeting The next Advisory Council meetings were scheduled for Thursday, September 15, 2022 and Wednesday, October 12, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. at IFW, 353 Water Street, Augusta.
X. Adjournment A motion was made by Mr. Cowperthwaite and that was seconded by Mr. Ward to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 10:30 a.m.