Maine is the nation’s wild brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) resource leader. A national status assessment of the species’ historic range, completed in 2005, found the greatest percentage of intact, viable wild brook trout populations occur in Maine. Maine is a leader in wild brook trout conservation and a founding partner of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture: National Fish Habitat Partnership (www.easternbrooktrout.org). Our wild brookies persist statewide and can be found inhabiting all varieties of aquatic habitats – lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and coastal estuaries. This provides anglers with ample year round options to experience a variety of fishing opportunities and angling styles while exploring Maine’s diverse geography.
Maine’s wild brook trout tend to be concentrated in the interior highlands of the state, an area dominated by vast forests. However, wild brookies are also common in lower elevation areas, the coastal plain, and in relative close proximity to development. All in all, recent survey efforts of all habitat types reveal that wild brook trout occupy about 60% of all habitats available to them within Maine. Because trout can be found in such diverse habitats and conditions, fish size and abundance is also quite variable. As such, IFW biologists vary management strategies across habitats and waters in order to provide a variety of options to anglers while conserving populations for future generations. Some ponds that support high growth rates are managed to provide anglers an expectation of catching larger than average size trout. Conversely, some waters that tend to produce high abundances of trout are managed to provide anglers an expectation of ‘faster fishing’ or higher catch rates for smaller trout. Additional information regarding managing Maine’s unique and valuable wild brook trout resources can be found here www.maine.gov/ifw/fishing/species/management_plans/brooktrout.pdf.
Some Management Techniques and Their Effects
In North America, fishing regulations were implemented well before the turn of the 20th century. For example, season closures for some marine fisheries were implemented as early as the 1600s and by the time of the American Revolution, numerous statutes were in place regulating fish harvest. Since the 1960s there has been a broad trend toward more restrictive harvest regulations including the reduction in the number of fish that can be harvested and the use of restrictive length limits. Additionally, water and species-specific regulations have become common throughout the United States. Whereas seasonal closures and creel limits were often the only regulations implemented at the turn of the 20th century, slot length limits and length-based creel limits are now used more widely to control harvest.
Fishing regulations are implemented for many reasons. In Maine, fishing regulations are implemented to improve fishing quality or to maintain population viability, to alter community dynamics, or to encourage the control of exotic species from certain waters. In addition, fishing regulations can be applied for public safety concerns, such as consumption advisories due to contaminants (e.g., lead, mercury, PCBs). Regulations may also be implemented for social reasons, such as accommodating the desires of individual user groups. Both social and biological data are used by our Fisheries Division when implementing or altering fishing regulations and policies. Suffice to say, developing, maintaining, and changing fishing regulations is no easy task! With any regulation, careful design and regular monitoring are essential in order to be effective.
If you’ve fished in Maine then you may recognize that state-wide there are a diversity of fishing regulations that all anglers must follow. Fishing regulations are as diverse as the people of Maine and are based on many factors, including the water body, location, water quality, species composition, and the desires of anglers. Below are some fisheries management techniques that we hope define and explain why certain regulations exist.
General Law: This regulation provides basic protection to stocked and wild fish. General law encourages early harvest where angler pressure is moderate to high which can maximize growth rate potential of individual fish not harvested in the fishery. This regulation can provide good catch rates and harvest opportunities
Low Bag Limits: Lower bag limits are intended to distribute the catch over a longer period of time and among more anglers. Low bag limits usually coincide with restrictive regulations such as high minimum length limits.
Slot Limits: These regulations are bound by the upper and lower length limits with the intent of directing harvest to specific parts of a fish population while protecting others. A slot limit may be used to “thin out” smaller fish to allow remaining fish to grow faster and enable large fish to be caught and released or kept. The protected size slot protects fish and allows them to continue to grow and reach a larger size class. Anglers are important with this regulation! Without harvesting fish of a given size, the regulation does little for management of the resource.
Catch and Release: This regulation is intended to return fish to the water alive, thus giving them the chance to grow larger and be caught again. This regulation may be effective on waters where natural recruitment and population size is very low and growth rates are excellent, or on waters where there is a strict need for conservation (imperiled or endangered species, for instance).
Fly Fishing or Artificial Lures Only: These “terminal tackle” regulations are applied to reduce mortalities in released fish and are often an effective and necessary companion to restrictive bag and length limits.
No Live Fish as Bait: This regulation is typically applied to reduce the risk of establishing unwanted bait populations in landlocked salmon or brook trout waters, while still allowing the use of dead baitfish or artificial lures.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.