The proposed ban on fishing with soft baits in Maine is no longer before the state’s legislature. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife presented its report regarding the use of soft baits in Maine’s waters to the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on January 28, 2014.
The final conclusion: “… the Department does not recommend any legislation at this time.” The individual anglers, fishing club representatives and retail fishing tackle dealers attending the hearing were pleased with the recommendation to take no legislative action.
However, the department did make a number of recommendations to enhance its angler education programs by involving anglers, angler organizations and the sportfishing industry. These enhancements are intended to minimize the loss and improve the proper disposal of soft baits in state waters by anglers.
In 2013, Maine’s legislature considered two bills: one to ban soft baits and another to mandate degradable hooks for recreational fishing in Maine. After a hearing in February 2013, and thousands of comments in opposition to the bills, the legislature directed the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “… to study effects of artificial fishing lures made of rubber and soft plastic and non-biodegradable hooks for fishing.” The 17-page report described the department’s findings and methods.
From a scientific point-of-view, overall the report indicated a low rate of soft baits found in the digestive system of fish surveyed between 1985 and 2013, ranging from a low of 0.4 percent to a high of 5.2 percent of fish sampled, depending on the survey method.
“We are pleased with the department’s recommendation of no legislative action and with many of the recommendations to enhance angler educational about soft baits and the proper use and disposal of all baits,” said American Sportfishing Association Vice President Gordon Robertson. “Knowing the science of the actual impacts of the use of soft baits, the department’s decision was the correct one.
“In addition, we concur with many of the recommendations concerning angler education and we stand ready to work with the department along with anglers and angler groups to reduce the loss of soft plastic baits used in recreational fishing.”
Soft baits are popular among anglers and they comprise a significant segment of the artificial bait market. They negate the need to obtain and keep live baits; they are relatively inexpensive; and they are effective. For this reason they are especially popular with non-resident anglers who visit Maine to fish its waters.
“Forty-four percent of Maine’s angling days are from non-resident anglers,” Robertson said. “Unfounded restrictions on fishing equipment such as soft baits would cause a negative impact on tourism expenditures in Maine. In addition, forcing anglers to use live bait, or once live baits, can cause the inadvertent introduction of nonnative invasive aquatic species.”
“My business would be severely damaged if soft baits were banned or restricted in Maine,” said Carl Bois, owner of Lovell Bait and Tackle Shop and the Rocky Ridge Guide Service in Lovell, Maine. “The department is right in recommending that no legislative action be taken on this issue. There isn’t a threat to fish or the environment from soft baits. Across Maine, stores and businesses like mine depend on anglers, both resident and nonresident. If there is a litter or disposal problem, that can be addressed through angler education.”