Voluntary Angler Books: Citizen science to help fisheries biologists in Maine

May 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm

By Tim Obrey, Fisheries Resource Supervisor, Moosehead Lake Region

Maine anglers are really passionate about fishing.  Not only do they love to fish, but they love to learn about fishing and fish management. They want to know what we do and how we make decisions. We get a lot of great questions and many times anglers ask how they can help us. That can be a tough order because a lot of our work involves monitoring fisheries with technical gear like: gillnets, trapnets, electrofishing, and weirs.  That really isn’t something we can just pass off to the public.  But there is a way anglers can provide very meaningful assistance. 

There are roughly 6,000 lakes and ponds in Maine and thousands of miles of streams and rivers, yet we have less than two dozen fisheries biologists in the field across the State. From my experience, we spend the vast majority of our time on our larger waters.  These complex fisheries demand constant monitoring, so we can only get to a handful of our smaller ponds each year.  This is where anglers can give us a hand. For decades we have recruited serious anglers to keep voluntary record books of their fishing in Maine through this citizen science project. You don’t have to fish every day, but we do need anglers that can keep detailed records of their fishing trips. 

In the Moosehead Lake region, we had well over 100 anglers keeping records for us at one time.  In recent years, we’ve seen the number of participants slip.  Their fishing records are used to monitor the fisheries in many of our smaller waters and we also receive significant data from our larger lakes, like Moosehead, that can be used to fill in gaps.

20-inch brook trout caught in Moosehead Region

As an example, we have a set of camps that has kept angling records for over 30 years for us.  Several years ago, their catch rates on a small native trout pond exhibited a steep decline. The next year, very few trout were caught in this pond that was once the “go-to” pond in the area.  We scheduled field work to evaluate the situation and found that the pond had either summer or winter killed which occasionally occurs in some small/shallow ponds when drought or extended winters create unfavorable conditions for trout. Sometimes this causes a portion of the population to perish.  We were able to immediately post signs on the trail to the pond, alerting anglers of the situation and asked them to voluntarily release the brook trout they caught.  We followed up by implementing catch and release regulations the next year to eliminate harvest and let the pond recover.  The pond did recover on its own after a few years and now provides good trout fishing once again.

Landlocked salmon. Photo by Dan Legere

This is just one example, but we have many waters that we monitor via voluntary angler books. Even if anglers just spend one or two days on a pond, we are still interested in that information.  Sometimes the compilation of data from multiple anglers on a pond will give us a good look at what is happening there.  

If you are interested in keeping a voluntary record book and assisting us with the management of the fisheries across the State, please contact a fisheries biologist at one of the regional offices near you.  We coordinate with each other, so no matter where you fish, your information will get to the right place.  We will send you a log book with instructions, and a return envelope with postage at the end of each season.  And as a show of our appreciation, the Department thanks our most dedicated anglers (that keep records for several consecutive years) by sending them a Voluntary Recognition Art Print for their efforts.  

Regional Contacts for Voluntary Book Program:

Gray Office: Brian Lewis, Fisheries Resource Technician – Brian.lewis@maine.gov – 207-657-2345

Sidney Office: Wes Ashe, Fisheries Resource Biologist – Wesley.ashe@maine.gov – 207-287-5363

Jonesboro Office: Jake Scoville, Fisheries Resource Technician – Jacob.scoville@maine.gov – 207-434-5925

Strong Office: Tyler Grant, Fisheries Resource Technician – Tyler.grant@maine.gov – 207-778-3322    

Greenville Office: Steve Seeback, Fisheries Resource Technician – Stephen.seeback@maine.gov  207-695-4138

Enfield Office: Brian Campbell, Fisheries Resource Technician – Brian.r.campbell@maine.gov – 207-732-4131

Ashland Office: Jeremiah Wood, Fisheries Resource Biologist – Jeremiah.wood@maine.gov – 207-435-3231