Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Projects Report
This is not about fishing. It’s about relationships.
For more than a decade, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s Fishing Initiative Committee (which I chair) and the Fisheries Division at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife have been at war over fishing issues.
We see the waters of Maine as half empty of fish, while DIF&W sees them as half full. That’s the simplest way to describe this disagreement.
As the years passed, these differences were magnified, leading SAM to the legislature with many fishing bills, all of which were opposed by DIF&W. I will never forget a SAM bill calling for year-round open water fishing, something that is common in other states.
DIF&W strongly opposed the bill at the legislature where it was defeated. One Regional Fisheries Biologist said year-round open water fishing would happen in his region over his dead body.
Last year, several SAM fishing bills at the legislature irritated DIF&W’s Fisheries Director John Boland. But after speaking against the bills, Boland and his boss, Dr. Ken Elowe, worked with me and the legislative committee to improve the most important bill before it was enacted.
That bill required DIF&W to report to the legislature, no later than March of 2010, on what it had done to accomplish nine goals in The Maine Fishing Initiative, a statewide collaborative project created and coordinated by SAM’s Fishing Initiative Committee and endorsed by many anglers, sportsmen’s groups, and legislators.
In return for helping with that bill, Elowe asked SAM to make an effort to improve the organization’s relationship with Boland and his fisheries biologists. Last September, an effort at rapprochement began, led by Elowe. Today, five months and many conversations later, the turnaround in this relationship has been remarkable.
John Boland deserves special praise for stepping back from the bitterness and hard fights of the past to create a new partnership between his division and the state’s largest sportsmen’s group.
Last week, Boland presented the report required in last year’s legislation to the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The report was remarkably well done and worthy of recognition and praise. You can read the entire report on DIF&W’s website (www.maine.gov/ifw/ - select Fishing/Reports/LD 699 Resolve).
Addressing the Maine Fishing Initiative’s goal to improve the states recreational fishing economy, Boland reported that fishing license sales in 2009 increased 1.6 percent for residents and 1.1 percent for nonresidents. The department is using its website, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter to promote fishing in Maine.
To improve customer service, DIF&W is updating daily its website fish stocking reports, and launching a new website at www.mainebrook.gov for anglers focused on wild and native brook trout.
The goal of securing appropriate access to inland waters was addressed with the acquisition or development of ten boat access sites in Maine, bringing the total to 217 sites acquired since 1989.
DIF&W made a major effort to simplify its complex fishing rules and rulebook, and the new 2-year book will be available by April 1. Many anglers still believe fishing rules are too complex, but the department deserves credit for the steps it has taken to simplify those rules.
For the goal of increasing populations of large fish, Boland cited the department’s Quality Landlocked Salmon Project, a partnership with SAM, and a proposal to manage trophy waters for brook trout, as well as new state record brook trout, rainbow trout, white perch, and muskellunge caught in 2009.
If any part of Boland’s presentation demonstrates the remarkable change in the relationship of SAM and DIF&W, it came when he reported what the department has done to achieve the goal of increasing fishing opportunities.
They have opened many Maine waters to year-round open water fishing! “Large sections of our biggest rivers such as the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and Saco are now open year round to open water fishing,” reported Boland.
“Many other smaller rivers, once closed after September 30, are now open throughout the fall or in many cases year round,” he said.
And here’s the real kicker. “On April 1, 2010, lakes and ponds under general law management will be open to year round fishing in eleven counties, and open water angling will be permitted on all lakes/ponds open to ice fishing in the remaining counties.”
I am pleased to report that this was not done over anyone’s dead body.
Well, I guess this was sort of about fishing. But it’s also about the amazing things that can be achieved when state agencies and interest groups set aside differences to work together for their shared constituencies.