Maine NFC Initiates "Heritage Brook Trout" Sign Project

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The Maine chapter of Native Fish Coalition has entered into a partnership with Sportsman's Alliance of Maine and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to post informational signs on Maine's Heritage Brook Trout waters. 

The goal of the project is to make anglers aware of where they are, the status of and threats to these unique and critically important wild native trout resources, and the laws in place to protect them. 

There are more than 6,475 lakes and ponds in Maine.  Approximately 1,200 are classified as
“Principal Fisheries” for brook trout.  Brook trout are “present” in roughly 325 others.  Dozens of other lakes and ponds have never been surveyed and may, or may not, contain brook trout.

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Roughly 670 of Maine’s brook trout lakes and ponds are self-sustaining and not maintained through stocking.  This represents over 90% of the remaining pond-dwelling wild native brook trout populations in the country, and the largest Inventory of wild native salmonid lakes and ponds in the contiguous United States. 

To put this in perspective:

  • New Hampshire has just three formally designated “Wild Trout” ponds.
  • According to Vermont Fish & Wildlife, “Most of Vermont’s brook trout pond fisheries are supported entirely through stocking…  A few ponds are not stocked at all.”
  • Per New York Department of Environmental Conservation, “The vast majority of our brook trout ponds are stocked.  Ponds totally sustained by natural reproduction probably total less than 50.”

Outside of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, there are very few self-sustaining native brook trout lakes and ponds remaining in the United States.

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Unlike most ‘Wild Trout’ programs, Maine’s State Heritage Fish program is a law not a policy.

Approximately 575 of Maine’s self-sustaining brook trout lakes and ponds are protected under the State Heritage Fish law.  Unlike most "Wild Trout" programs, Maine’s State Heritage Fish program is a law not a policy.  It is also the most widely applied wild native trout program in the country.

§212-A. State heritage fish

Eastern Brook Trout. The eastern brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, is a state heritage  fish.

Arctic Charr. The subspecies of the arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus oquassa, also known as blue-back charr, is a state heritage fish.

§12461. State heritage fish waters

1. Adoption of state heritage fish waters. The commissioner shall adopt by rule a list of state heritage fish waters composed of lakes and ponds that contain state heritage fish, as defined in Title 1, section 212-A. This list must include waters identified as eastern brook trout waters and arctic charr waters that have never been stocked according to any reliable records authorized for adoption by Resolve 2005, chapter 172, as amended, and waters identified as eastern brook trout waters and arctic charr waters that according to reliable records have not been stocked for at least 25 years.

§12461. State heritage fish waters

4. Stocking state heritage fish. The commissioner may not stock or issue a permit to stock fish in a lake or pond listed as a state heritage fish water under this section.

5. Fishing restrictions. A person may not use live fish as bait or possess live fish to be used as bait on a lake or pond listed as a state heritage fish water under this section. A person who violates this subsection commits a Class E crime.


Enacted in 2005, Maine’s State Heritage Fish law was a Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine initiative.  The bill was supported by Dud Dean Angling Society and other groups.  Several members of Native Fish Coalition were on Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s Fishing Initiative Committee and/or Dud Dean Angling Society's board at the time, and were instrumental in getting this landmark legislation passed.

While initially intended to protect never-stocked-over brook trout only, the Maine legislature suggested that the law should be applied to previously, but not currently, stocked brook trout lakes and ponds as well.  A second list of waters, those not stocked in 25-years or more, was added via amendment in 2013.  In 2007, the law was amended to include Arctic charr waters as a result of a Dud Dean Angling Society initiative.        


With 578 State Heritage Fish lakes and ponds, and waters being added annually, this project will be ongoing.  While in some cases access to these waters is via a single point, many have multiple access points.  This means we will need to print over 1,000 signs, along with extra inventory to cover program expansion, vandalism and signs lost to Mother Nature.

The signs will be 12" x 18" portrait, and printed on .08" aluminum stock.  They will feature the same artwork used by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on most of their brook trout related information, Joseph Tomelleri's "Brook Trout", along with the logos of the three partners to help strengthen the message.   


The Maine Heritage Brook Trout Sign initiative will take 2-3 years, and will never be 100% implemented at any given time due to the "moving target" nature of the program, and the fact that signs previously posted will be lost.  If we can reach and maintain a compliance level of 75% or more, we will be far better off than we are today. 

The material costs for this project are over $10,000.  The manpower effort required is huge as these waters can be found throughout the state, many of which are off-the-grid and accessible by unmarked dirt roads and trails only.  It will require a lot of assistance from the partners, angling community and other interested agencies and organizations. 


NFC is working to obtain grants, corporate sponsorship and individual donations to help offset the costs of the signs and hardware needed to put them up.  First up is a Maine Outdoor Heritage Grant, and the application is being worked on as we speak. 

We will be creating a map of the Heritage Brook Trout lakes and ponds, as well as a database of these waters with a unique identifier, name, physical location, GPS coordinates and status to help manage the project. 

NFC will also be creating a website to help recruit volunteers and report the status of the project.  Volunteers will be able to view a map, see a list of open waters, "reserve" water(s) to put signs up on, get an email telling them where to pick up their signs and hardware, and receive a letter from MDIFW authorizing them to post the signs.

While the details are not 100% ironed out yet, the sign is designed and approved by the partners, a prototype is being developed, and the ball is rolling.  Stay tuned for updates regarding this unprecedented and vitally important wild native brook trout initiative.  

We will be posting a project-specific donation link once we know more about grant status and potential corporate sponsors.  The current grant application will require matching funds and we are working diligently to procure these.  If you would like to help fund this project, please contact us at             

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