AUGUSTA — Late Friday afternoon at the State House, Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, defended Thursday’s emergency measure that started the open-water fishing season on Thursday, a week early for the first time ever.
He also explained why the same bill, LD 1650, changed some bear, coyote and turkey hunting regulations.
The fishing change, he said, was largely driven by unseasonably warm weather this winter, early ice-out on most waterways and a new fishing law book with several new regulations that take effect on Thursday, April 1. That’s the historical start to the open-water fishing season.
“When the weather got so nice last week, and we knew that the lakes were going to be open, and we were looking at the new law book, which I knew opens up all these new waters (to year-round fishing), I said, ‘Why not open it up right now? Let’s go fishing now,’” Bryant said.
“And so, we put the amendment in.”
Other amendments to the bill increase the number of dogs from four to six that hunters can use at any one time to hunt bear and require a person training dogs on wildlife to have a valid hunting license.
Bryant said the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife wanted to increase the number of dogs hunters train with, which was part of his original bill. However, when discussing it in the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, which Bryant chairs, he said a suggestion was made that some people would like to hunt bear with six dogs.
“The department said that was OK, and everybody thought that was reasonable, and so we put it in,” Bryant said.
Another amendment allows hunters to place a carcass on the ice of a brook, great pond or river while coyote hunting as long as the carcass is removed before the ice melts, so they don’t get arrested and charged with a Class A felony.
Bryant said the old law already has a Class A felony in place to try and stop people having disputes with each other from purposely corrupting the other’s drinking water.
The clarification of connecting coyote hunting and carcasses with it resolved a conflict game wardens had in enforcing the old law, because hunters were putting bait atop ice, Bryant said.
The bill also exempts coyotes from the “waste of game” prohibition (“waste” means to intentionally leave a wounded or killed animal in a field or forest without making a reasonable attempt to retrieve it).
“We passed a law three or four years ago that really looked at wanton waste, because we wanted to make sure that we were treating the resource the best we could, and so we put some rules around it,” Bryant said.
“The other piece was people at the time were trying to protect the deer in deer yards from coyotes, and at the time, coyote fur may not be worth anything and you’re not going to eat it, so, at that point, you wouldn’t be violating the law if you didn’t take it, because there’s no value to it,” he said.
Another amendment allows hunters to use dogs during the fall turkey hunt.
“That would be no different than your bird dog when you’re out hunting partridge or whatever,” Bryant said. “That’s a new rule. We looked at it, thought it was reasonable … but we didn’t see a lot of problems with it. People have bird dogs, and we didn’t see how that would conflict too much.”
However, he said he didn’t think there’d be many fall turkey hunters using bird dogs.
Banning fishing from Franklin County’s Chain of Ponds and Long Pond dam fish ways was done for safety reasons, Bryant said, after both dams had been repaired.
Another amendment to expand by three months night hunting season on coyotes to run from Dec. 16 to Aug. 31 was inadvertently omitted from last year’s law. So this amendment corrects that, Bryant said.