Brook trout specialist tells it like it is

Upper Magalloway Brookie“Our instream habitat around the state is the pits.” Those were the words of Merry Gallagher, brook trout specialist and fisheries research biologist for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, explaining that, in the days of floating logs down our brooks and streams, those waters were straightened out by bulldozers and dynamite, and a lot of  the structure, including boulders, was removed.

Merry is a superb champion for our native and wild brook trout, and highly respected around the state for her work. It was a real pleasure to attend her talk in Wayne on July 13, sponsored by the Kennebec Land Trust.

Merry also expressed concern about climate change, reporting that “In many areas for brook trout, we are exceeding the thermal tolerance of these fish.”

A University of Maine graduate, Merry has been a stream ecologist for 20 years, focusing in the last ten years on brook trout. She works out of DIF&W’s Bangor office. A lot of her work is aimed at restoring brook trout habitat in moving water, our small streams and brooks. She loves her job and gave a very informative talk.

She said her agency’s relatively new Wildlife Action Plan lists the number one issue for aquatic habitat a stream connectivity. Close behind is invasive species mitigation and habitat restoration.


I was especially interested in Merry’s report that most of Maine’s culverts have been mapped and evaluated, and replacing them with culverts that allow fish passage is her number one goal and the best thing we can do for our native and wild brookies.

Specifically, she said improving culverts and fixing instream channels are the most important steps we can take for our native brook trout. “Our trout need micro-diversity back in the streams,” she said. “They need more pools and instream structure.” Let’s hope some groups representing sportsmen and environmentalists will step up to lead a project to accomplish this. One possibility might be to launch an “Adopt a Stream” project in which clubs and other groups could work to restore the stream habitat Merry is calling for.

Those remarks by Merry reminded me of how disappointed many of us were when DIF&W failed to support an important bond issue to raise more money for improving stream crossings. Tom Abello, lobbyist for The Nature Conservancy, called the failure of this bond his greatest disappointment at this year’s legislative session. Here’s what Tom told me.

“The biggest disappointment is not getting the stream crossing bond passed, LD 1069. It was a $10 million bond for towns and cities to make critical infrastructure upgrades in culverts and other stream crossings to address public safety and fish passage issues. It would have continued the work of the 2014 water bond which provided $5.4 million for that. It would benefit towns and cities throughout the state – rural, small, urban, and large. It was the last bond pulled out of the package. Supporters of this bond include the state Chamber, TNC, SAM, Associated General Contractors of Maine, Maine Audubon, Maine Municipal Association and many others. We also had some 70 cosponsors.”

The bond money from 2014 will run out soon and this vitally important project will come to a halt, until we can find obtain more funding. Tom later told me that the Department of Environmental Protection was “a very big supporter of the bond,” but that DIF&W was not involved and “has never really engaged on the issue.” That’s really troubling, considering the importance of this for our fisheries and other wildlife resources.

Merry Gallagher would probably agree!  She said that they have prioritized the culverts where improvements would be most beneficial to fish. Let’s hope her agency follows her lead and gets behind a bond issue next year.

I noted that the Kennebec Land Trust just finished surveying culverts in our area, and is hosting a workshop on September 22, and a field trip, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, on this issue.

Invasive Species and More

Telling it like it is, Merry said, “You’re never going to eradicate invasive species,” in most places. That is so sad and so true. She cited northern pike and muskies as the worst of our many invasive species now found in so many Maine waters.

You may know how hard we worked, when I was at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, to recognize and protect our native and wild brook trout. After years of effort, we finally convinced the legislature to name the brook trout as our state’s Heritage Fish and protect them in 300 waters that have never been stocked.  I took note when Merry stated that we must now expand protection to brookies in moving water – a great idea! She said she sees this as a real need, and she’s right. We’ll need to come up with legislation to do that in 2017.

I was especially pleased when Merry told the audience that she works closely with the state’s environmental groups, including Maine Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and others. As a sportsmen, I have always appreciated the work and support of the state’s environmental community for fish and wildlife habitat projects and issues.


On the way home from Merry’s talk, several things occurred to me. We are very lucky to have her here in Maine, looking out for our native and wild brook trout. We are also fortunate that we still have so many of these fish in so many of our brooks and streams. My favorite fishing these days is in those brooks and streams, catching those trout.

Finally, despite our good work in protecting brook trout in many small ponds, we have a lot more work to do, both to add more ponds to the protected list, and to expand that protection to brookies in moving water.

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.