Why catch-and-release is killing, not conserving, Maine fisheries

Central Maine –

Glen Gisel hauled in a 22-inch lake trout from his boat on Sebago Lake and shook his head at how thin the fish was. He put the lake trout, also called a togue, on top of his cooler and did something he’s been doing a lot lately: He cut into its stomach to see what, if anything, it had been eating. There, he found a nickel-sized piece of tree bark – not your typical trout meal.

 “This fish is starving to death,” Gisel said. “We should have seen some bones or the remains of some type of forage fish. In years past, even last year, that fish would have been spitting up smelts.”

The widespread practice of catch-and-release in waters across Maine has thrown many ecosystems out of balance, creating a vicious cycle: an overabundance of fish that leads to a lack of forage, resulting in scrawny catches that no one wants to keep. And, so, the fishermen throw them back – usually under the assumption that they’re helping.

To combat the problem, the state has been loosening fishing regulations on waters across the state, from southern Maine to the Rangeley Lakes to around Fort Kent, where catch-and-release has created an overabundance of togue and landlocked salmon, two species more frequently affected because they have long lives. On Sebago Lake, state biologists plan to propose the most liberal daily bag limit on togue since they introduced the species there in 1972.

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