I am very pleased to report that Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine Executive Director David Trahan has decided to create a Saltwater Fishing Committee to address a number of issues facing our state’s coastal anglers.
He has asked me to head up the committee, and I am honored to do so. Currently we are forming a group of perhaps five initial members, and we expect to meet regularly and on an as-needed basis, as well.
Our mission, in a nutshell, will be to enhance the recreational saltwater fishing experience in Maine. The committee will work to increase the health of our game and food fish stocks, to eliminate angling restrictions that have little or no conservation benefit, and to ensure a fair and equitable regulatory process that will include input from sport fishermen.
And finally, we will promote recreational fishing in order to maximize its social and economic benefits to the state. There will certainly be a lot on our plate, but we intend to move forward one issue at a time.
Maine’s saltwater fishermen are facing several key challenges. One is a virtual closure of the cod fishery in 2013. Gulf of Maine cod have been overfished for decades, but tight regulations implemented five years ago appeared to be doing the job by allowing the population to rebuild.
A new assessment, however, indicates that cod are actually severely overfished, and that a 90 percent reduction in catch is needed. The SFC will work with regulators and encourage them to re-run the assessment with updated methodologies and assumptions.
A cutback of this magnitude would be disastrous to Maine’s offshore party and charter boat industry and would impact coastal tourism, as well, so we need real confidence in the science.
The recreational catch of winter flounder has been slowly improving in Maine’s near-shore waters during the past few years, yet a 2008 assessment conducted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that manages winter flounder throughout its range, indicated that the overall stock needed to be reduced by 11 percent. The result was a reduction in the length of Maine’s recreational flounder season to just three months, July through September.
Now, however, a 2011 survey indicates that winter flounder are actually in good shape, so the entire allowable quota has been doubled for 2012. Maine’s recreational season should therefore be extended, something that has not yet taken place but that the SFC will be working to implement.
Striped bass, Maine’s most popular inshore game fish, have been dwindling in numbers for the past few years, especially in the northern reaches of their migration range east of Casco Bay. Although the striper population coast-wide is said to be healthy, the catch in Maine has dropped from 4 million fish in 2006 to 142,000 fish in 2011.
The SFC will stay on top of this issue and, among other things, encourage regulators in states where commercial striper fishing is permitted to do everything possible to curtail the well-known illegal and wasteful practices that are impacting the health of the overall striped bass stock.
As mentioned above, the SFC will work towards eliminating angling restrictions that have little or no conservation benefit. For years, Maine’s Department of Marine Resources has layered on regulations that have stifled the growth of saltwater recreational fishing.
Do we really need a 24-inch minimum size on cod in state waters, the same as in federal waters? Do 29 species of fish (some we don’t even have here in Maine) need to be prohibited in Sheepscot Bay in the spring? Do we need to have a recreational-fishing “spawning ban” on the possession of 14 species in May and June in all state waters? Does a ban on fishing with bait-and-circle hooks really do much to protect striped bass where flies and lures are permitted?
These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked, and the SFC will compile biological and catch data to justify its requests for appropriate, science-based public access to our marine resources. We’ll also attempt to determine the economic benefit of improving access and angling success.
The SFC will also be addressing issues as they come up, ranging from the support of appropriate Atlantic herring management options to taking positions on taxing and licensing saltwater anglers and the sport fishing industry.
We intend to be watchdogs for the fishing public and to use SAM’s considerable clout to help ensure that resident and visiting anglers enjoy the best possible saltwater fishing experience here in Maine.
Barry Gibson is chairman of the SAM Saltwater Fishing Committee. He currently serves as the New England Director for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, as chairman of the NEFMC’s Recreational Advisory Panel, and as vice president of the Northeast Charterboat Captains Association.