Maine Brook Trout Survey - Closing the Loop
Maine NFC joined Jerry Derosier and his young protege Lincoln Kelley for a memorable day in the Maine woods posting State Heritage Fish signs at three small remote ponds.
BROOK TROUT SURVEY
Jerry initially surveyed the three ponds as part of the joint Audubon, Trout Unlimited (TU), Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) Brook Trout Survey project. Previously headed up by Maine NFC chair Emily Bastian, this project utilizes volunteers to help determine if wild native brook trout are present in previously unsurveyed waters.
Per Ms. Bastian, Mr. Derosier was a long-time dedicated volunteer who surveyed more than forty waters. He confirmed the presence of wild native brook trout in at least twelve of them. Five of these waters were granted State Heritage Fish status, the others either did not have fish or were omitted for reasons we will discuss later in this post.
Lincoln, a 16-year-old aspiring outdoorsman, masterfully used a GPS to guide us into one water that had no trail into it. While we encountered some old marking tape along the way, no one had been where we were for some time. For just over a third of a mile as the crow flies, we pushed through bushes, crawled over logs, stepped through -- and in -- mud, and otherwise did what it took to reach the water.
This was the first time we posted a State Heritage Fish sign at a water with no formal trail into it. The sign was posted facing out into the water not at the incoming trail like all the other signs posted to date. The idea was so that it could be seen by anyone coming to the pond to fish regardless of how they got there. This is our new policy for such waters.
The second water was a beautiful small pond that although in my "home turf", I had never been to. While I had tried to find it before, I was either blocked by rocks across the road during an active logging operation, a bridge that was out for a couple of years, and a trail obscured by brush and with no tell-tale parking spot to give it away.
The last water was an easy-access pond that if you didn't know it had wild brook trout you wouldn't think it could. Littered with lily pads and other forms of aquatic vegetation, the pond looks more like a warmwater swamp than a brook trout pond. However, numerous springs provide year-round refuge for trout.
The Audubon/TU/MDIFW Brook Trout Survey is a great project. It helps draw attention to these important wild native trout waters, as well as help prioritize MDIFW workload by sending biologists to the waters where they are most likely to find wild native brook trout first. The project puts volunteers in touch with the resource and creates a lasting bond with these unique wild native trout waters.
NFC sees great synergy between the Audubon/TU/MDIWF Brook Trout Survey project and the NFC State Heritage Fish Sign project. The former starts the ball rolling, and the latter brings closure and serves as the fourth and final step in the process:
- Volunteer survey to determine presence of brook trout.
- MDIFW survey to conform presence.
- State Heritage Fish designation to protect what is found.
- Signs to let people know where they are and what is expected of them.
Unfortunately, the volunteer survey waters are not being added to the State Heritage Fish list at the rate they should be. They are being rejected for reasons such as "Not a lake/pond", "Not a self-sustaining population", etc. Not adding these waters to the State Heritage Fish list does not make biological, economic, or social sense.
Out of 40 ponds considered for State Heritage Fish designation in 2018, many of which were survey waters, 14 were rejected as "Not a lake/pond". It is not fair to send volunteers into the field to survey waters if they are to be patently rejected for State Heritage Fish designation due to a non-scientific and arbitrarily applied designation regardless of what they find.
Many, in fact most, of the waters have the word "Pond" or "Lake" in their name. Almost all have a 4-digit MIDAS/WATCODE, a state-assigned designation granted only to lakes and ponds. And they were surveyed under what is formally referred to as the "The Remote Pond Survey Project." They were ponds when they were named, ponds when they got MIDAS numbers, and they are ponds now...
Another 17 were rejected as "Not a self-sustaining population." This designation is subjective and inconsistently applied as well. These waters are not stocked and never have been or else we would have already known about them. The volunteers, and in most cases MDIFW, found brook trout there. If the brook trout are not self-sustaining, how did they get there?
The criteria for adding waters to the State Heritage Fish list is ambiguous and dangerously vague: "The commissioner may adopt rules to amend the list established under subsection 1 to add a lake or pond if that lake or pond meets criteria established by the commissioner for classifying a lake or pond as a state heritage fish water."
Members of NFC submitted legislation to make it harder for MDIFW to omit newly discovered wild native brook trout waters from the State Heritage Fish law. MDIWF opposed the proposed amendment, and Audubon and TU testified neither for nor against it. A vague and ambiguous law is not a law as it is unenforceable...
We owe the volunteers full-disclosure, and by that we mean letting them know the status of their waters so they can challenge the outcome if they see fit to do so. They worked hard to get to these waters and hard to confirm the presence of wild native brook trout, and we need to work just as hard to keep them informed of their status.
And we owe the volunteers formal closure, and by that we mean doing everything we can, regardless of whose feathers we may ruffle, to get their waters State Heritage Fish designation so they are legally protected from stocking and the use of live fish as bait. We promised them protection and protect we must...
If you are or were a Brook Trout Survey volunteer, let us know and we can tell you the status of your waters. If they received State Heritage Fish designation, we will get you signs and hardware, and help you put them up if you'd like us to. If they did not make the cut, we'll let you know why and give you what you need to try to get the powers that be to revisit it.
Kudos to folks like Jerry and Lincoln, and the rest of the brook trout survey volunteers, for stepping up for Maine's wild native brook trout, and some of the last previously unknown populations of such in the United States. We can't thank you enough...