ChipLakeNEWS InfoSheet

This InfoSheet is number: 0901

Summary: Opinions about Maine's Fishing Economy LD 655 and
Fisheries Management
LD 699


Resolve, Directing the DIF&W to Conduct a Study to Enhance Maine's Recreational Fishing Economy

By: Dr. Vaughn Anthony (retired), Chief Scientific Advisor, and Head of Fisheries Stock Assessment Programs, NOAA Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. ---currently a member of SAM's Fisheries Initative Committee

Surveys for planning are widely used in all states. An overview of salmonid fisheries planning across the United States (Fisheries, vol. 28, no 11, 2003, p.15-25) indicated that the top planning tools used by coldwater fisheries agencies were: 1. resource inventory and assessments and, 2. public opinion surveys.

When fishermen in Maine were surveyed about the condition of their fisheries and when they reviewed the fishery management plans, last prepared in 2001, they expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the management of our fisheries, especially for salmon and lake trout. They wanted more opportunities to fish and catch large salmon and lake trout. From 1985 to the year 2000 the discard rate of legal sized salmon caught in Maine increased from 8% to 75%. Sixty-six per cent of legal size lake trout were also thrown back. A legal salmon takes about 3 days to catch and, today, it weighs only 1.7 pounds on average. People are simply not happy with our fisheries.

If you Google fishing charter and guides you get an average of 3 listings per state for all 50 states. The top 5 states are Florida, Alaska, New York, Wisconsin, and Georgia. Keywords in the advertisements are year round, trophy, monster, awesome and wild. New York offers big salmon in Erie, Ontario and Champlain lakes, monster bass and walleye, wild trout in the Delaware River and year round trophy fishing. Oregon lists over 180 guides. Maine had only 2 listings: for stripers and smallmouth bass. Our major fisheries are for brook trout, salmon and lake trout. We can't market year round monster-trophy- awesome- salmon or lake trout. We have location, location, location but no large fish to go with it.

Maine's poor fishing and poor fishing economy can be greatly enhanced, however.We can market our beautiful surroundings, take advantage of successful fishery management ideas elsewhere and note ideas from other states that might make our fisheries better.

I've listed here, from my travels, a few examples of what some other states are doing and how they compare with us.

Nationwide, 33% of the fisheries budgets, on average, are devoted to hatchery activities. Here, in Maine, a rural state, we are blessed with some of the best wild and native fish in exceptional habitat, yet, we are spending up to 50% of our budget stocking 8-10" fish. Other states stock where they have no choice and manage where they do. We stock because it's the easiest thing to do and our biologists tell us it's the best way to manage fish!

In the Northeast, some of the best fishing we have is in the Great Lakes-Lake Ontario, for example. Here, New York takes advantage of the large forage base in the lake and manages for big fish. They catch very large fish of several species and have a huge fishing economy that dwarfs what we have in Maine. Similar fishing could occur here on a smaller scale but it would require an administrative decision to do it.

We currently stock 6 species of fish totaling 1.3 million fish every year. I'm not sure that people will come to Maine to catch splake, rainbow trout or our brown trout. Other states produce these species to the equal of ours. Information on the size quality of the species elsewhere might tell us that we are wasting our time with these species.

Other states stock even more species, like walleye, but they don't have the habitat and the potential for salmon, brook trout and lake trout that we have. No state has our potential for these three species.

The western states that compete with Maine for tourist dollars don't achieve their status by stocking many species but rather by stocking large fish of a few species. This strategy of less and large appears to be better than more and small, as in urban states. We need to learn more. To reach our potential for big salmon and lake trout, however, we would have to improve the forage base. To reach the stage of trophy or awesome might not be too difficult.

Stocking is the method of management for salmon and lake trout in Maine. Stocking is reduced or increased as the smelt populations fluctuate. Our smelts are not managed and spawning mortality and abundance fluctuates widely. Smelt are demersal spawners like Atlantic herring, or Pacific salmon and have a dome-shaped stock recruitment curve. Heavy spawning produces a fungus which wipes out the entire egg supply causing fluctuations in abundance. Pacific salmon from Alaska to California are managed by controlling escapement levels to the spawning grounds to prevent this. The entire industry depends on this strategy. Managing smelts would also require controlling escapement if the smelt stocks recover to full abundance.

On Cape Cod, sea run brown trout fishing is allowed year round and they have some of the best fishing of this type in New England. Similar year round fishing here in Maine could also be allowed while controlling fishing mortality with bag limits or by catch and release. We are approaching this status now with our estuarine brown trout but we are not there yet. Perhaps Cape Cod has a better strain of sea run brown trout that we could use.

Also on Cape Cod, large brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout are often stocked together in a given pond which is then, stocked later with bass as soon as the trout are fished out or die. This allows 15" trout to be caught within housing developments a short bike ride away. This diversity of fishing is very valuable for any state. Its value in bringing fishermen to Maine is questionable, however.

We could allow all types of fishing and seasons commensurate with population abundance, especially with put and take situations, as is done in urban states The take, however, is supposed to equal the put with these kinds of fisheries. Here in Maine, we emphasis put, grow and take instead of just put and take. Grow is the problem. Overstocking, no forage, and strict regulations here in Maine causes slow growth, intraspecific mortality and few large fish. If these fisheries are available in urban states, why would fishermen come to Maine for these opportunities?

In western states like Montana, catch and release areas are stocked with small amounts of large fish where fishing mortality is kept at very low levels. These fisheries are highly advertised and they attract large numbers of fishermen.

In Yellowstone River the minimum size of cutthroat trout is 16 inches. All fish are just shy of 16" and the fishing is very enjoyable. Water pH is near 7 and the river is highly productive. Fish could be stocked at small sizes and reach 16" quickly. Similar river fisheries in Maine are highly treasured, like Grand Lake Stream, but are quite rare. Our rivers are very acidic compared with western states. These states have a very great advantage over Maine in this regard. Stocking of large fish would be required in our rivers and slow growth and high natural mortality would have to be tolerated. our ambiance is far better, however.

These specialty fisheries could compensate for lakes in Maine where fishing mortality needs to be low for wild fish. Low mortality on wild fish is a problem when hatchery fish are mixed with wild fish. In Oregon, hatchery fish are fin clipped and when mixed with wild fish, regulations allow only the removal of clipped fish. For some reason we won't try this in Maine. This technique could be very helpful in rebuilding our wild fish, however.

Good management can provide lots of opportunities here but there is just so much one can do with good management. We need more.

Commercial marine fisheries are managed by direct control of fishing mortality through catch and/or effort restrictions and by maintaining a certain minimum level of spawning stock abundance. Additional management measures then come into play to insure quality, convenience and efficiency of harvest like mesh sizes, fish size, season and area restrictions. These are called indirect control measures which may alter fishing mortality but not control it. These procedures used elsewhere could equally apply to Maine's recreational fisheries. Diversity in time and method of fishing is demanded by the public which requires gear and/or seasonal restrictions. These can all be accommodated as long as fishing mortality is controlled first and is really related to management. This would require some sort of resource inventory and fishing mortality assessment which (as mentioned above) is the number one planning tool of other coldwater fishery agencies across the country. I suspect that other states have assessment programs that track their fish inventories and mortalities better than we do, like controlling splake, for example.

Regulations may or may not be more liberal in other states. Their intent is two fold - to protect the resource yet maximize fishing opportunities. For example, if other states sponsor year round fishing because it does not harm the resource yet allows fishing, this may be something we should embrace.

The success or failure of our stocking programs is due to the numbers stocked and the amount of available forage. The annual stocking of lake trout has declined over the decades from a million to 16,000 and the salmon numbers have steadily gone down from 600,000 to 125,000. These high stocking numbers is why the average landlocked salmon that is caught today weighs only 1.7 pounds. The smelt abundance has never been allowed to recover from its initial overfishing by stocked fish.

When salmon were first stocked in our waters they grew very fast and big and could qualify as "monsters". In some lakes they grew to 5-10 lbs. in 5 years; to 10 -12 lbs. in 6 years and to 10-27 lbs. in 9 years. Large fish in other states, Quebec or Labrador, for example, are either cannibalistic or able to feed on large amounts of forage fish. Useful information from these fisheries would be predator to forage ratios. In other words if we were to rebuild our salmon and lake trout stocks to the trophy or awesome level, how many smelts would we need? When wild salmon are present along with competing lake trout, what should the stocking rate be for hatchery salmon? Other states may or may not have insight on this but help is needed.

We don't really need to look to distant states to learn something about this problem. Sebago Lake is far enough. Smelt stocking was conducted from 1994 through, at least, 2006. The smelt abundance increased by 20 times since 2001 and the salmon and lake trout fishing has been the best in decades. Now we have recent proof, again, of how good the fisheries can be with a good forage base, and most of all, how fast the stocks can turn around. Information on the forage base in Sebago might be useful for managing some of our other lakes.

Attempts to arouse more interest by anglers in Sebago Lake salmon fishing goes back to 1883 when Stillwell and Stanley wrote; "Were the fish better known, this lake would be more visited than Dominion waters, and with the same outlay of time and less money, with as great success"---All fisheries stock assessments conducted by NOAA Fisheries at Woods Hole were scientifically peer reviewed. Detailed terms of reference were carefully formulated to address the needs of the managers and of the public and scientists were brought in from around the world to assist.

The management plans by the DIF&W have never been peer reviewed, there are no terms of reference and there were no outside scientists for assistance. The plans are only reviewed casually by the public every 15 years. The suggestions from the public relate only to goals and objectives and not on the quality information for management. The general thinking by the DIF&W staff has been that their biggest problem is a lack of staff and money and that the public causes more harm than good and should stay out of the way. They state over and over that stocking is the answer to management problems. Some peer review procedures used by NOAA Fisheries and by other states could be adopted by Maine or, at least, considered.

The quality of scientists can be determined by comparison with other scientists elsewhere. A scientists value is usually based on education, published papers, invited talks, how well they meet their job description, retraining and updating of computer skills and statistics, relations with the public and other scientists such as reviewing papers or chairing committees in councils, commissions, societies and advising scientists in other laboratories. Memberships and participation in the American Fisheries Society and the American Institute of Fisheries Research Biologists (AIFRB) is important. The AIFRB has 22 Principals of Professional Conduct for Fishery Biologists which could be very useful here in Maine during job performance reviews.

Accountability for fisheries programs and decisions can be evaluated by reviewing the fish management plans, last produced in 2001 and how well we have met the goals and objectives. The major goals and objectives for both salmon and lake trout were for more opportunities to catch fish and most of all, to catch large fish. For salmon, the plan called for the development of 18 trophy waters where big salmon could be caught. The next scheduled review for the public won't occur until 2016.

To compete with other states in the economics of fishing, we clearly need to improve our management, stocking policies, regulations, and research. With the beautiful natural environment surrounding our fisheries that we have and the potential of our salmon and lake trout, we should be able to produce fishing experiences that no other state could equal.


Goals and Principles for DIF&W Fisheries Management

Presented by Dr. Vaughn Anthony (retired), Chief Scientific Advisor, and Head of Fisheries Stock Assessment Programs, NOAA Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, Massachusetts ---now a member of SAM’s Fisheries Initiative Committee

The state of Maine has 2,100 lakes and 32,000 miles of clean rivers with the potential for having some of the best fisheries in the country. Our major fish populations are brook trout, landlocked salmon, lake trout and smallmouth bass which, cannot be matched by any other state. It is these 4 species that define our economic future in freshwater fishing. Smallmouth bass is well managed and our native and wild brook trout are receiving more protection every day. These species are doing well but our fisheries economy isn’t. It is landlocked salmon and lake trout, and only these two that have the strength to boost our fisheries economy. These species can and must be improved.

Our management, regulations, stocking procedures and research have been so inadequate, however, that we are not even close to reaching the economic potential for these two species. In fact, the good old days of great salmon and togue fishing are gone.

Fishing was fabulous in the 40’s 50’s and 60’s. When I started fishing we never kept salmon under 3 pounds.. We expected to catch 4 and 5 pound salmon occasionally and even up to 7 pounds. I fished East Grand Lake every May beginning in the 1960’s. Every year I would hear of someone catching a 7 pounder at Five Islands while I was there. Fishing like this disappeared in the late 1970’s. Where I could count 57 boats at one time and place, there are none today. The classic May salmon fishery with sewed on smelts and streamer flies has changed to a June downrigger fishery. Hatchery salmon replaced the wild salmon and the average salmon caught today weighs only 1.7 pounds.

Hatchery salmon are 4 inches longer than wild salmon when they are stocked and weigh about 3 pounds at age 6. The problem is that 99% don’t reach age 6 and none of them survive to reach 7 pounds. The exception to this is a rare lake where there still is a large natural supply of smelts. Wild salmon live a lot longer but grow a lot slower.

The discards of legally caught salmon and lake trout have increased considerably in the last 20 years; from 8% to 75% for salmon and up to 66% for lake trout. Fishermen do not want and will not harvest small fish. Discards also reduce the fishing mortality rate on the smaller age classes and increases stockpiling.

In recent years, many species including bass, landlocked alewives, and Northern pike have been stocked all across this state. This invasive species problem has never been worse than it is now. People are clearly stocking some of these species because they are unhappy with the current fishing. The salmon and lake trout are too small and too many people can remember what it used to be like.

In response to all of this and instead of providing more larger fish, or year round fishery or more chances to catch them, the DIF&W began stocking splake , rainbow trout, and stocking more brown trout. We need to fix a couple of species, instead.

Surveys of our fishermen and reviews of the fishery management plans, have produced a list of missed opportunities to fish for salmon and lake trout and primarily the loss of big fish.

The management plan goals for lake trout are to increase catches of lake trout of 2-5 pounds in general. Increase the number of lakes with fish over 5 pounds and add some lakes with fish over 8 pounds. An opportunity to catch large lake trout currently exists in only 10% of the lake trout waters of Maine

The real tragedy has been with landlocked salmon and the real help is with this species. The latest management plan for salmon in 2001 called for more ice fishing, river/stream fishing, fall fishing, “urban” fishing, “remote/wilderness” fishing , “youth” fishing and, most of all, 18 trophy salmon waters where some 5 lb salmon could be caught. The greatest need expressed over and over was for larger salmon.

When the hatchery system really got fired up in the 1970’s, the stocking of salmon and lake trout was very excessive. Knowledge was limited but hatchery fish weren’t. In the 30’s and 40’s over a million lake trout were stocked. The error of this was realized and this number was gradually reduced over the years to 16, 000 today. Salmon were stocked in the mid 1970’s at the 650,000 level which also gradually declined to 113,000 today. The problem was not only the huge numbers initially but the change over from fry to spring yearlings which eat everything in sight. Due to the overstocking of salmon and lake trout and stricter fishing regulations, stockpiling of small salmon and lake trout have occurred in most of our traditional fishing lakes. This “stockpiling” of hatchery fish wiped out the smelts and wild fish and caused intense competition for food and mortality among those stocked. The result is poor growth, high mortality and the lack of big fish. With these problems, the DIF&W has been reluctant to allow any additional fishing opportunities for fear of making the problems worst.

At East Grand Lake, the wild salmon used to have very good growth before the stocking of 8-10” salmon in the mid-1970’s. Since 1975, the stocking of salmon in East Grand Lake has averaged twice the standard level of 0.5 per acre and this has decimated the smelts and wild salmon and produced daily catches of as many as 50-70 small salmon (14-15” long) per day


1. Estimate fishing mortality for all existing fisheries. Manage fish stocks by directly controlling fishing mortality with bag limits by size of fish. All fishing opportunities requested by the public should be allowed, consistent with the fishing mortality they cause as long as it doesn’t exceed the level chosen for that stock. Inconvenient duplicate regulations (like line restrictions) are not needed to control fishing mortality and should be abolished.

2. Decrease stocking of salmon and lake trout to reduce stock piling of small fish and reconsider alternate year stocking.

3. Open more waters to ice fishing where fishing mortality can be controlled by bag limits. Maintain fairness with length and bag limits between ice fishing and open water fishing. Some lakes have seasonal restrictions that have no basis in science and are not needed for controlling fishing mortality.

4. Allow more fall fishing in all areas, but, again, based on fishing mortality limits.
Keith Havey and Ken Warner, in 1970 said—“where salmon fisheries are maintained solely by stocking, there is little justification for prohibiting fishing during the normal salmon spawning season, during the winter, or, in fact, during any season of the year”. It’s the fishing mortality rate we should be concerned with.

5. Begin a smelt stocking program with fry as already outlined by SAM’s Fisheries Committee .

The official method of managing salmon and lake trout in this state is”by stocking”. It is a trial and error method. When growth is slow, stocking is reduced. And when growth is O K, stocking is increased. The fish length that is being measured and used for this index is a function of the past year’s growth. Stocking requests require a 2 year waiting period after which salmon are stocked and the results are seen in the following year. It is a 5 year catch up process that is not very effective.

With the realization of overstocking and its effects on opportunities lost, the objectives of management by the DIF&W has come down to stocking 0.5 salmon per acre and 5.0 lake trout per acre every year. These numbers are arbitrary general numbers, that don’t take into account individual lake conditions such as the effect of competing species on the food supply, the existing number and condition of the wild fish in the lake or any rebuilding of the smelt populations.

As the quantity of stocked fish has declined over the years toward these two numbers so too has their validity. As smelts and wild salmon have come back in Sebago Lake, for example, the best science there suggests that the salmon should be stocked at 0.08 per acre or 6 times less than the standard of 0.5!


1. Where fish growth is good, consider a minimum length of 16” (or even more) for salmon and a low bag limit with the intent of building trophy waters.

2. Adjust fishing mortality differently for wild and hatchery fish given the high cost of hatchery fish and their lack of reproductive value, and brief life span. The fishing mortality on hatchery fish should be much greater than on wild and native fish. Allow harvest of clipped hatchery fish to adjust fishing mortality between wild and hatchery fish.

3. In all lakes where wild salmon, lake trout and smelt are present, in even small numbers, decrease stocking below the arbitrary levels of 0.5 salmon per acre and 5.0 lake trout per acre to reduce competition.

4. Develop written stocking and management policies for every water body (this is because each system is different) to support suitable stocking programs and the chosen fishing mortality. For example, some waters should never be stocked with smelts.

5. Reduce or eliminate minimum size restrictions on lakes where stockpiling is occurring for both salmon and lake trout, and increase the bag limits on small fish.

The only way we can improve the freshwater fisheries in this state is by producing large salmon and lake trout. When salmon were first stocked in Maine in the late 1800’s, large salmon were produced. The salmon that were stocked in Moosehead Lake, Cold Stream Pond, Rangeley Lake and the Fish River Chain of Lakes grew to 5 – 10 pounds in 5 years. In 6 years they grew to 10-12 pounds and in 9 years they grew to 10-27 pounds. In 1882, the average weight of salmon caught in Sebago Lake was in excess of 11 pounds (Kendall, 1935).

The key to good growth for lake trout and salmon is smelts. No one debates that anymore. A smelt program is more important than either a salmon or lake trout program. The DIF&W has no smelt program and no plans to begin one or to even stock smelt fry. There is a smelt committee within the DIF&W, but they have never met.

We now know how to produce smelt fry in large numbers, cheaply and efficiently. We know we can’t transfer adults because of disease problems. We know the egg transfer method works but it is inefficient. Instead of transferring smelt eggs from another spawning area with a 99% mortality, 5 day old smelts are 20 to 80 times more efficient in terms of mortality.

Smelt are also critical for survival. This is why producing smelt fry is much cheaper than raising thousands of salmon or lake trout in the hatcheries at high costs that die every year from lack of food during the critical spring period.

Under this fisheries initiative, we would first evaluate the costs, efficiency and practicability of a hatchery system for producing large numbers of smelt fry. We would implement a gradual stocking program for a few obvious lake systems. No large scale of stocking supplemental forage is suggested or inferred but rather carefully chosen lakes and ponds with high potential for rebuilding self-sustaining smelt populations will begin this program. Smelt bait ponds will be an important part of the program to help the bait industry.

Sebago Lake is the latest example where the fishing for both salmon and lake trout improved due to the increase in smelt abundance. Smelt stocking was conducted from 1994 through, at least, 2006. The smelt abundance increased by 20 times since 2001 and the fishing has been the best in decades. Other lakes could be equally productive with improved smelt abundance.

Meanwhile,at East Grand Lake, concerned fishermen and camp owners have cleaned their smelt brooks, diverted road run off away from the brooks and have already collected $5,000 from their own pockets in hopes of receiving some smelt fry.

Until we develop a smelt program, we will never have good salmon and lake trout fishing in this state! But when we do, our fisheries economy will greatly improve and Maine will realize its potential and rightful place in the world of great fishing. No other state has this option.


1. from the landlocked salmon plan (page 4)
“---maintaining adequate numbers of smelts for forage is the most important element of salmon management in Maine”

2. from the smelt management plan (page 4)
“It is well documented that the overall health and quality of Maine’s landlocked salmon fisheries are largely dependent on smelt population abundance”.

3. from the lake trout management plan (page 3)
“ When smelts have been introduced, lake trout feed on this species almost to the exclusion of all other forage no matter how abundant other suitable species seem to be”.

4. from Kendall (1935).
“---it has been quite generally stated to be a fact that salmon introduced into new waters where there
are no smelt, do not thrive unless smelts are also introduced”.

5. from Maine Commissioners Report of 1889-90 (on the stocking of salmon)
“To succeed, we feel sure the waters where they are to be introduced---must also contain plenty of freshwater smelts.”

6. from Havey and Warner in their 1970 book on salmon state
“Under conditions of abundant food, fish that survive the fishery may become very large by age 5 or 6 (6 to 10 pounds).

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