This week I’ve been telling you about recommendations from a 2008 Angler’s Congress, and the comprehensive Maine Fishing Initiative created by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine following the Congress. In 2009 SAM proposed the Maine Fishing Initiative in a legislative bill, sponsored at our request by Representative Bob Duchesne.
Seventy one State Representatives and 24 State Senators had endorsed the Maine Fishing Initiative’s goals in their 2008 candidate survey. So it must have been enacted, you say? Well, you’d think so, but the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed the bill, and it was defeated.
Instead, the legislature stripped the initiative from the bill, and turned it into a set of instructions asking DIF&W to report, in 2010, on any progress it had made in achieving the goals of the Fishing Initiative. And in 2010 DIF&W did that, sort of, presenting a brief four-page report. In that report they did, at least, “recognize that additional improvements are warranted.” And they sited four vacant positions in the Fisheries Division, and state shutdown days that occurred that year, for falling short on some of the goals.
Sadly, many of the things the agency cite, to show they had tried to accomplish some of the Fishing Initiative’s goals, are no longer in place. For example, DIF&W cited its “new TV show that will begin airing on community access stations February 1, 2010.” Gone. Long gone.
To improve customer service to anglers, the agency reported that “the Fisheries Division has launched a new WEB site www.mainebrook.gov.” Gone. Long gone.
To address calls for increased fishing opportunities, DIF&W reported that “large sections of our biggest rivers such as the Kennebec, Androscoggin, (and) Saco are now open year round to open water fishing. Many other smaller rivers, once closed after September 30, are now open throughout the fall or in many cases year-round.” This remains true today, but I have to tell you, SAM struggled for years to create open water fall fishing in this state, and had to overcome the strong opposition of DIF&W to get the legislature to authorize it.
One of the more amusing parts of DIF&W’s 2010 report is titled “Continuing to simplify fishing rules where possible.” The agency reported that it was “reorganizing the law book into two sections: 1) Southern & Eastern Counties and 2) Northern and Western Counties.” They also cited six other steps they’d taken to simplify the rules and improve the rule book. So, do you find the fishing rules and rule book simple and easy to understand? I didn’t think so!
When the agency reported that “we’ll be discussing the management of ‘trophy waters’ for brook trout at an upcoming meeting of our Wild Brook Trout Working Group,” I was encouraged. But six years later, we’re still waiting.
Finally, DIF&W said it would beef up enforcement of fishing rules on remote ponds in 2010, and reported that its staff had spent “approximately over 2,000 hours annually investigating the illegal spread of invasive fish, plants and other organisms.”
And that’s the last time we heard anything about the goals and principles of the Maine Fishing Initiative.
My testimony in favor of SAM’s bill to establish these goals and principles for DIF&W fisheries management included some interesting statistics.
“Over the last two decades many residents and nonresidents have given up fishing in our state. Fishing license sales peaked at 310,278 in 1990, and dipped all the way to 261,753 by 1997. Since then sales have averaged 271,452,” I testified.
“From 1993 to 2005 Maine lost 30,000 nonresident anglers. Using estimates of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that a nonresident angler spends $500 per trip, the loss of 30,000 nonresident anglers cost Maine’s economy between $15 and $25 million a year.
“We believe the loss is much greater. States that invest in and manage their fisheries wisely have seen the sales of fishing licenses increase. For example, during a period when Maine’s nonresident fishing license sales decreased by 28 percent, Montana’s nonresident fishing license sales increased by 19 percent!
“Every survey taken by the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine has demonstrated why the state is losing anglers. Surveys of SAM members have consistently found 50% or more rated fishing as only fair or poor. When asked what single thing SAM could do for them, many members asked for better fishing.
“Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioned its own scientific poll in 2001. Dr. Christian Potholm of Command Research found that nearly half of those who fish freshwater reported that the quality of fishing in Maine over the previous five years had declined. Specifically, 47% said fishing had declined, 23% reported that fishing had improved, and 24% felt that fishing had stayed the same. That same year, DIF&W reported that overall revenue was off pace, “largely due to a continued slowdown in resident fishing license sales.”
I summed up my testimony this way: “Maine can and must do better. We have waters that match any in this country or Canada in beauty and opportunity. We just don’t have the fishery. But we could. And we must.”
Still waiting. Still hoping.