Conservation groups and representatives of commercial fishing interests joined forces Wednesday in Augusta to show their support of a bill that would create a saltwater fishing license in Maine.
In the coming days, you’re likely to hear from many folks who disagree with the tactic. Some will say the license is just another federally created burden on taxpayers. Others will say there’s a better, free option available.
The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine has championed the free registry in a bill last year, recognizing that many of its constituents oppose another license fee.
Among the anglers I’ve spoken with, some are so angry they’ve vowed to never buy a saltwater license, or to give up recreational fishing along Maine’s coast in protest.
The federal government is requiring 10 states that do not have saltwater registries to adopt one. This year, anglers in those states can register with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for free. Next year, anglers in those states that have not complied with the requirement will have to buy a federal license. All those funds will stay with the feds. Maine will get nothing.
Those opposed to paying a license fee will call it a “tax.” They will call it “unfair.” They will blame a particular political party, or a particular politician, or a particular bunch of out-of-staters who don’t understand how things are done here in Maine.
All for 15 bucks.
That’s right. Fifteen bucks.
According to the groups that assembled Wednesday, that’ll be the asking price for the saltwater license that LD 1331 would create.
To put that in perspective, saltwater anglers typically spend more than $15 for a couple dozen blood worms when they go striper fishing. They spend more than $15 for a pair of large saltwater lures. They likely spend more than $15 for gasoline and lunch when they drive to and from their fishing grounds.
Can a workable free system be set up? Perhaps.
But would a fee-based system that asked saltwater anglers to pay such a nominal fee be able to provide much more to those anglers in the long run?
Our natural resources agencies are cash-strapped, yet we ask them to do more with less each year. We expect thriving fisheries and sound management and solid enforcement.
And many expect to pay nothing to receive those benefits … just because they’ve never had to pay in the past.
Sometimes it’s tough to make changes. Sometimes it’s tough to admit that the tried-and-true isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that we can do better.
And sometimes, paying a little in hopes of gaining a lot is the thing to do.
This is one of those times.
Moosehead caution urged
Considering the fact game wardens have been urging caution on Maine lakes for weeks, it would make sense that those looking to venture onto the state’s largest lake ought to pay particular attention to ice conditions.
As we all know, however, that’s not always the case.
Craig Watt, the manager of Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville, said conditions for snowmobiling in his region have been improving, but said there are plenty of other lakes to consider as Moosehead Lake’s ice thickens.
“Our snowmobile trails are being groomed Wednesday night through Sunday night [and] we have good early-season trail riding,” Watt wrote late last week in an e-mail response to some questions I’d posed to him. “We could really use one more decent snowstorm to make things really good.
“Ice fishing on the big lake is slow,” he wrote. “Conditions on the southern end of the lake have allowed some fishermen to get out, but ice conditions vary from place to place. The Rockwood area only had about six inches of ice and North Bay is still trying to close up. Extreme caution should be used before attempting to fish Moosehead.”
Watt did say there are plenty of other safer options available.
“The smaller lakes and ponds have more ice and in general are safer,” he wrote. “Prong Pond, Mountain View Pond and Wilson Pond are all fishable and are producing some nice fish right now [with] good action.”
Closer to home, I stopped by Green Lake late last week and talked to an angler who was heading onto the ice at the public landing on Nicolin Road.
A few shacks had already been placed on the ice, but he said at least one was taken onto the lake by hand … not with a tow vehicle.
He said the places he and his pals had checked had about five inches of ice at that point, and at least one shack had been placed well out on the lake, in a popular togue-fishing spot.
Worth considering: Five inches of ice in one spot doesn’t equate to five inches of ice everywhere.
This week’s recent cold weather has clearly improved ice conditions around the state, but a healthy dose of common sense and caution could make the difference between a safe day of fishing and a tragedy.
Have fun. Catch fish. But don’t forget to be safe.