Redfin pickerel get clear protections from angling in Maine

By Bob Mallard

By Bob Mallard

In early spring while researching how Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife manages the north and south zones, I accidentally discovered that there were no protections from angling for state endangered redfin pickerel.

By not being specifically noted in the fishing rules, redfin pickerel were by default subject to unlimited harvest and no length limit. “Inland species not listed above: Unlimited [Bag Limit], None [Length Limit],” says the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife General Fishing Laws for Inland Waters.

Interestingly, there is a prohibition on angling for Atlantic salmon, a species classified as endangered at the federal level: “Sea-run Atlantic Salmon: Federally Endangered Species – No Fishing Permitted for this Species.” — MDIFW Statewide General Fishing Laws for Inland Waters.

I passed the information on to the MDIFW, as well as to the Maine chapter of Native Fish Coalition. In addition to my biological concerns, I believed that MDIFW was in violation of Maine Endangered Species Act in regard to “take” of listed species. 

I also wrote about it in this publication.

While MDIFW acknowledged and confirmed my findings, they seemed somewhat disinterested.  MDIFW also stated that they believed they were in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. 

After talking with the Maine Native Fish Coalition about it, they had a different interpretation, agreeing with my initial assessment. The coalition agreed to take it on as a formal project. 

As a result of the lack of any commitment from MDIFW, as well as an unusually high number of comments and questions from readers in regard to my first article, I wrote a second article about redfin pickerel in this publication.

This time I offered more detail in regard to the state’s Endangered Species Act and MDIFW fishing and hunting rules, as well as suggestions as to how we should move forward: “The best thing to do would be to impose fishing regulations that protect redfin pickerel from harvest, develop an incidental take plan or exemption to protect anglers from accidental take, and post informational signs where redfin pickerel can be found to let folks know what is expected of them.”

A couple of weeks later, the coalition met with MDIFW to discuss redfin pickerel and other issues. 

While I usually don’t attend these meetings, I came along to hear what they had to say. During the meeting, MDIFW reiterated that they believed they were in compliance with the Endangered Species Act in regard to redfin pickerel, and that no action would be taken. 

A few weeks after meeting with MDIFW, the coalition and I received notification via a general department email that they had apparently reversed course and were proposing to amend the fishing rules to prohibit angling for redfin pickerel and other state listed species:

“Maine Statute (Title 12, §12808) currently prohibits the ‘take’ of any state listed endangered or threatened species. There are two inland species of fish in Maine that are state listed endangered (Redfin Pickerel), or state listed threatened (Swamp Darter). Although angling is not a significant threat to Maine’s populations and statute already prohibits take, the current Maine Fishing Laws (specifically the General Laws page) lacks the clarity that fishing is not permitted for these two species. This proposal would clarify that angling and/or harvest of Redfin Pickerel and Swamp Darter is not permitted.” — MDIFW Fishing Regulation Proposals For the 2024 fishing season.

A couple of weeks ago, MDIFW announced that the proposed change in regard to redfin pickerel cleared the legal hurdles with no opposition, and effective Jan. 1, 2024, is now law.

And while not my focus at the time, swamp darter, a species designated as threatened at the state level, were included in the provision as well: “Sea-run Atlantic Salmon, Redfin Pickerel, Swamp Darter: Endangered or Threatened Species —No Fishing Permitted.” — MDIFW Fishing Regulation Proposals For the 2024 fishing season.

While recreational angling may not be the biggest threat to Maine’s redfin pickerel, habitat degradation/loss and non-native fish introductions likely are, I do not believe it is a non-threat due to their low abundance.

I also feel that there is conservation value in drawing attention to rare and threatened species, and prior to this, no one was talking about redfin pickerel.     

This serves as a reminder that we sportsmen and conservationists have a voice in these matters if we are willing to speak up.  

It also shows that while you don’t always get what you ask for when you ask for it, positive changes often come to fruition after things settle down.

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