Some of us fish to get away from it all, to escape from all of the trappings of modernity. And let’s face it, in this new century we are awash in rules and regulations. Sport fishing has not been immune to the times, either. In far too many cases, the fishing law book is a royal pain in the neck, a compendium of complexity that can put a dampener on the sheer freedom and fun of angling.

Maine outdoor writer George Smith, a longtime champion of simplifying fishing regulations, recently wrote that he knows ardent anglers who have quit the sport out of frustration over complex fishing regulations. I have known a few myself.

A bill pending in the Maine Legislature, LD 157, was intended to address this issue. It would have created a special advisory committee whose job it would be to review fishing and hunting regulations regularly and make suggestions for improvements. Apparently the bill was withdrawn after assurances from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries that IF&W will work closely with the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine in trying to clarify and simplify Maine’s labyrinth of fishing regulations.

According to Smith, “Andrea Erskine, DIF&W’s Deputy Commissioner, presented a memorandum to the IFW Committee explaining that her agency would work with SAM to review laws and regulations. ‘The initial effort will be a review of the design and layout of the fishing law book publication with a goal of simplifying the presentation of regulations to create a more user-friendly publication for anglers.’ That is certainly a great place to begin this important process, something that is badly needed.”

Will it work? Time will tell. Over the years, there have been similar attempts with mixed results. It is no easy thing to overcome bureaucratic inertia. My late friend and fellow angler, Millinocket guide Wiggie Robinson fought valiantly over the years to convince IF&W to do away with slot limits on trout. Oh, how the man loathed and despised slot limits! He argued that biologically the slot limit was unnecessary and that it compounded mortality rates on released fish.

Wiggie, who had some clout in outdoor circles and was a former member of the IF&W advisory council, went to his grave denouncing slot limits. Slot limits are still with us today, in spades.

Interestingly, too, confusing or restrictive fishing regulations are not unique to the 21st century. Here’s a sampling from the Maine fishing law book, circa 1932:

Nicatous Lake: Plug fishing for trout, togue and salmon is prohibited. Ice fishing allowed on Thursdays only of each week.

Dobsis Lake: Residents only permitted to fish through the ice.

Of course, in truth, the rule-making bureaucracy has a face. There are well-meaning people, fisheries biologists, and policymakers, who are responsible for all of these complex fishing regulations. The other side of the argument is that Maine’s sport fishery is exceptional and, there is no arguing with success: it has been well managed!

Although SAM and IF&W are to be commended for at least trying to reduce the complexity and confusion in Maine fishing regulations, there is no getting around the fact that part of the problem is unavoidable. Maine has an incredibly diverse and multifaceted recreational fishery. In no small way, our complicated fishing law book is the price we pay for stewarding a priceless sport fishery.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.” Online information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com.


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