Fish stocking depends on public access to the water

Enfied Hatchery GD.jpgMaine waters are stocked with fish only when the public is able to access the water. I’ve been concerned for years that the stocking policy of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is vague, and not enforced uniformly throughout the state. So I’ve been asking some questions lately about this, and I’m hoping you can help me on this project.

My interest in this issue was raised again by a recent story in the Kennebec Journal by reporter Jessica Lowell. Here’s Jessica’s report about the town of Washington’s annual town meeting:

Town Residents took no action on expanding the boat launch just off Route 105 on the southern end of Washington Pond. “It was develop a hand-carry,” Wesley (Daniel, chair of the board of selectmen) said. The launch can accommodate boats that can be put in the water by hand – canoes and kayaks, for instance. Larger boats that require trailers aren’t allowed, he said, in part because parking is limited.

Daniel said the town has been told that the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife won’t restock the pond unless a boat ramp is expanded to handle trailered boats. “Ten years ago, the Department of Conservation sent me a letter saying we were within our right to keep the ramp that and they would buy another piece of land on the lake,” he said.

DIF&W’s Policy

Please read this column and DIF&W’s policy that follows, and then let me know if you think the policy is appropriately followed in your area and on your favorite waters. It’s best if you email me your response, to

Francis Brautigam, a very capable and experienced DIF&Wfisheries biologist, helped me get started on this issue by sending me the agency’s fish stocking policy for public waters. Francis told me, “This policy is intended to be applied statewide and ensures that hatchery fish paid for with sportsmen’s dollars are stocked where the general public can benefit from this investment. Since this policy was implemented after the adoption of most statewide stocking programs, it is conceivable that some noncompliant waters have yet to be identified. In the Sebago Lake Region where I manage compliance, this policy has resulted in cancellation of a hand full of Department stocking programs.”

One key part of the policy is that the public should have access at least equal to those who own property on the water. Occasionally there are complaints from those with motor boats that a boat launch is only suitable for hand-carried watercraft, but that is not a reason to stop stocking a water. Depending on the size of the water, even walk-in access is sometimes judged to be enough to justify stocking.

The policy also explains the different types of stocking (introductory, maintenance, put-and-take, and experimental), which is very interesting.  So, here is the policy. Let me know if you think it is being properly followed in your area and on your favorite waters.

DIF&W Stocking Policy

H4.1 Stocking Public Waters (January, 2009)

The Department stocks fish to provide fishing opportunities that would not otherwise be available.  Fish culture in Maine is limited to salmonid species (trout and salmon).  Warm water species, such as bass, pickerel and perch are prolific and can sustain their populations without stocking.

The Department stocks public waters to benefit the general fishing public, not just those who own shore frontage on the waters of the State.  Therefore, the Department will not stock waters that lack reasonable and equitable public access.  The following factors will be considered in determining if reasonable and equitable public access exists:

  • Size and type of watercraft in common use,
  • Type of available access for those that reside on the lake shore (public access should be at least similar to, but no less than that available to shoreline residents),
  • Availability of safe and adequate parking,
  • Size of the water,
  • Juxtaposition to human population centers,
  • Current and future potential use,
  • Kind of fishing opportunities in common use (present & potential),
  • Seasonal fishery management focus
  • Existing shoreline development,
  • Availability of existing access for use by the general public (considering use fees, hours of operation, residency/affiliation requirements, and other potential limitations/restrictions).

Introductory stocking is done to establish a fish species in a water in which the species was not originally present with the expectation that it will then be able to maintain itself through natural reproduction.  Stocking is discontinued when the species has become established.

Maintenance stocking is a program of routine, continuous stocking (on various timetables) to supplement or substitute for natural reproduction.  This kind of stocking is done where there is suitable habitat for fish to survive year-round and grow, where habitat for natural reproduction is limited or non-existent, and where potential angler use is sufficient to ensure that the stocked fish will be caught.   Hatchery fish are released, survive and grow, and then are caught by anglers.

Put and take stocking is the stocking of legal-sized fish into waters with the expectation that they will be caught within a short time.  These waters may not provide habitat conditions suitable to sustain year-round fisheries; however, angling opportunity is created for short time periods, such as the spring open water season, fall open water season, or the ice fishing season.  Little or no carryover from one year to the next is expected because of seasonally poor habitat.  These waters are typically very accessible, and they are often located near population centers. The primary objective of stocking legal-size fish is to provide anglers with the opportunity to fish for salmonids where they might not otherwise have that opportunity, and to take home fish that are safe to eat.

Experimental stocking is used in special situations, for example, to help predict the success of stocking new strains, stocking different sizes, or new stocking rates. The program may then be changed, continued, or stopped, depending on results of the stocking. As appropriate, public input will be sought prior to initiating experimental stockings (see following section).

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.