AUGUSTA — Emergency legislation signed Thursday by Gov. John Baldacci began the open-water fishing season a week early and amended bear and coyote-hunting laws.

Fishing on most waters began Thursday, seven days before the traditional date of April 1.

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.

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 is gone.

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 effort to retrieve it).

Other changes included in the bill:

• Expanding by three months night hunting season on coyotes to run from Dec. 16 to Aug. 31.

• Making the intentional corruption of drinking water sources a Class A felony.

• Banning fishing from the fishways at Chain of Ponds Dam in Chain of Ponds Township and Long Pond Dam in Seven Ponds Township, both in Franklin County.

The sponsor of the original bill, Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, was unavailable for comment on Thursday.

Senate Majority Office legislative aide Mike Dunn, who works with Bryant, said bills usually don’t take effect until 90 days after being signed by the governor.

However, LD 1650 co-sponsor Rep. Herbert E. Clark, D-Millinocket, amended Bryant’s bill to include an emergency preamble and emergency clause to begin the 2010 open-water fishing season when the bill takes effect when approved.

“Because the ice opened so soon, it was deemed an emergency,” Dunn said.

Beginning fishing season a week early statewide through legislation has never been done before in Maine, Dunn said.

Thursday’s early start took the Auburn Water District by surprise, said Mary Jane Dillingham, water quality manager for the district, which hadn’t yet installed buoys in the closed area.

She said late Thursday afternoon that the district was getting phone calls from anglers anxious to learn whether the district would open Lake Auburn’s boat launch.

“The gates are set to open at 4 a.m. Friday,” Dillingham said. “That way, people who are interested in going out early can, but we will have to move our equipment in at 7 a.m. to install the buoys, so there may be a little traffic backup then.”

The gates will close one hour after sunset.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin attributed the emergency legislation to anglers who “have been anxious to drop their lines given that ice fishing season ended too soon in some parts of the state, with many lakes and ponds experiencing early ice-out conditions.”

The emergency law is in effect from March 25 to April 1. All lakes, ponds and brooks are open except those with specific opening-day regulations that start after April 1 as listed in the 2008-09 Open Water Fishing Law Book. Bag and size limit rules contained in the same book also apply.

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