Maine IFW Formally Proposes Live Bait Ban by Rule Not Exception in North Region

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is proposing a change to the general law for fishing regulations in the North Region (Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook, and northern portions of Oxford and Penobscot Counties) to further protect wild trout waters, including tributaries and outlets of heritage ponds in the North Region.

The proposal noted above was triggered by legislation submitted by George Smith and members of NFC in 2017 that tried to amend the State Heritage Fish (SHF) law to extend the protections granted to so-designated waters to their tributaries which under Maine law means inlets up the the first Great Pond (waters 10 acres or larger).

While the legislative committee did not amend the law as suggested, they did ask Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) to address the issue via policy. A working group was formed to address the issue, and this formal proposal is the result of nearly two years of negotiations.

To be clear and fair, the proposal as it now stands covers much more than what was originally asked for as it applies to moving water in general, not just inlets of SHF waters, as well as non-SHF lakes and ponds. Flowages are eligible as they are classified as either a pond or part of a stream.

Public hearings will be held in Millinocket and Hallowell on March 18 and 20 respectively to discuss a proposal to ban the use of live fish as bait by rule not exception in the North Region:

Maine supports the most extensive distribution and abundance of wild brook trout and Arctic charr in their native US range, and the Department places a high priority on the conservation of these important resources. - MDIFW

Unfortunately, MDIFW took waters open to ice-fishing off the table at the first public meeting. This was done for social reasons and although many of these waters are already home to one or more nonnative minnow species, it does not mean that they can’t be further compromised, or worse, by another nonnative fish introduction, including gamefish.

Under the idea currently being discussed, all waters in the northern zone (Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Aroostook, and northern portions of Oxford and Penobscot Counties) that are currently open to ice fishing, where live fish may be used at bait, would remain unchanged. - MDIFW

In addition to the ice-fishing exemption, a “traditional use” clause was added to the proposal by MDIFW which leaves the door open to non ice-fishing exceptions. The degree to which MDIFW uses this clause will have an impact on the overall effectiveness of the proposal.

Additional waters [not open to ice fishing] where there is a tradition of fishing with live fish as bait would also remain open to fishing with live bait. If advanced as a rule, the Department could add waters where use of live fish as bait would be permitted in support of future fishery management needs. - MDIFW
The majority of waters [closed to ice fishing] with traditional use of live fish as bait will continue to be allowed. - MDIFW
Live fish as bait would also be retained during the open water season on additional select waters [closed to ice fishing] where traditional use of fishing with live fish as bait is prevalent. - MDIFW
No meaningful loss of traditional and popular fishing opportunities using live fish as bait. - MDIFW

The statements above are dangerously vague. What does “a tradition of fishing with live fish as bait” mean? Does this refer to a certain number of people? A period of time? Both? What is the threshold and how is it measured? And what exactly is meant by “prevalent”?

Another concern is the statement about management needs. How is allowing the use of live fish as bait a “fishery management need”? This is really a “want” not a “need”, and something that we all know puts the resource at risk.

Unfortunately, these positions and exemptions place a higher value on “traditional use” than the resource. While dangerous concessions can be defended where the resource has been irreversibly damaged, this is not the case in much of the North Region in Maine, the last stronghold for wild native brook trout lakes in ponds in the country.


While called a non-issue by MDIFW at the initial public meeting due to the belief it was not happening to any large degree, IFW has proposed exempting 66 moving waters from the live bait prohibition. This implies that the use of live bait on rivers and streams is more prevalent than MDIFW initially believed, and could affect literally hundreds of miles of moving water:

Another area of concern were the lake and pond exceptions. While ice-fishing waters were taken off the table at the public meeting, to protect “traditional fishing methods” and the “bait industry” per MDIFW, like the moving water exceptions list, this too looks excessive, and possibly inconsistently applied.

Unfortunately, IFW did not differentiate between ice-fishing waters and open water exceptions in the attachment provided to the public for review. While this would have been a simple and useful to help people understand what was being proposed, IFW chose not to and as a result the non ice-fishing exceptions are not easily ascertained.

There are 357 named lakes and ponds, some of which are multiple waters, being proposed for exemption:

While NFC supports the general proposal, we have concerns about the exceptions which cannot be easily answered based on the information provided by IFW.

It is also unclear as to whether the proposal covers all tributaries of State Heritage Fish (SHF) waters, the impetus behind the original proposed amendment to the SHF law. While we suspect IFW knows this, based on the information provided to the public this would be tough to confirm.

NFC has performed an extensive analysis of the proposed lake and pond exceptions. We were unable to complete an analysis of the river and stream exceptions due to the lack of data provided, a general lack of river and stream data to use to fill in the blanks, and a lack of time due to the scheduling of the public hearing which allowed just two weeks.

We will be presenting our findings at the public hearing and posting them immediately after the hearing.