State regulators are asking for public input on a proposal to broadly ban the use of live fish when angling for brook trout and Arctic charr in northern Maine - while creating special exemptions for the many areas, including ice-fishing ponds and other sites, where using bait-fish is a long and legal tradition.
The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says the goal is to enhance protection for tributaries and outlets to so-called "heritage" ponds where baitfish could pose a threat to delicate ecosystems.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, says this state has more undisturbed trout habitat than the rest of New England combined, and he sees the agency's logic.
"Smelts in particular can change the entire lake or pond where they are introduced,” Trahan says. “Things like redfin shiners, suckers. We're also afraid of the bucket biologist who brings some bass into a pond in his live fish's bait bucket. That goes on quite a bit."
At the same time, Trahan says, it's important to protect traditional access to fishing holes where baitfish do not pose a threat.
The Sportsman's Alliance (SAM) does not have a formal position on the issue and Trahan says he expects a lively debate. The new standards would apply to Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis and Aroostook counties, as well as the northern tier of Penobscot and Oxford counties.
The agency is holding informational meetings on the proposal, at SAM's Augusta headquarters Wednesday evening, and a week later at DIF&W headquarters in Ashland