The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, more specifically the Maryland Inland Fisheries Division, is about to make a very important decision.

A) Will the agency move forward with a plan to outlaw bait fishing and make it illegal to keep a brook trout in all of the Savage River drainage above Poplar Lick beginning in 2007? This plan also includes tributaries to the Savage River Reservoir, such as Crabtree and Middle Fork.

B) Will the agency abandon the plan for this year and then attempt to get more scientific data to support it?

C) Will the agency alter the plan, making it legal to use bait and keep brook trout on private lands, but illegal on public lands?

I would prefer B, but I don’t think you will see it.

The motto of the DNR is “Inspired by nature, guided by science.”

I can’t speak personally as to the level of natural inspiration involved with the proposed establishment of the brook trout management area, though I will grant the fishery folks a gimme in that it is fair to assume that each of them gravitated to their chosen professions because of a love of fins and feathers, pines and porcupines; in essence a genuine concern for the resource. I do believe, though, in spite of claims to the contrary by the fishery managers, that scientific backing is sorely lacking for this plan, especially when the proposal is to take so much away from anglers.

In fact, the fishery managers in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park are abandoning after 30 years a program of severe angling restrictions. Why? It didn’t make the average native brook trout any bigger in those Tennessee streams, the southern fisheries biologists said, with a twang of course. The things that have big impacts on brook trout, they said, are environmental, including floods and droughts.

We know that is true in the Savage River as well. Flood years, such as 1996 do immense damage to the young brookies born in such a year. The Maryland DNR is treating a hangnail when it should be taking a cholesterol reducing pill.

I believe something else. I believe that once the Maryland fisheries folks tell us to keep our teeth off of brook trout from the Savage drainage that brook trout from streams on Dan’s Mountain and other Maryland waters will eventually be off limits in a frying pan as well.

Why do I say that? Because Bob Lunsford, who directs the state’s inland fishery efforts, has said it. Actually, the argument could be made that it is the lesser brook trout fisheries, the ones that would be first to vanish, that should be more severely regulated than a healthy one such as the Savage.

A petition has been started by streamside landowner Fred Metz asking the agency to can the creation of a brook trout management area. You’ll see it in some area establishments.

Lunsford, of Maryland fisheries, said that the comments he is receiving are six to one in favor of the plan. Perhaps the agency will determine the course of action based upon a show of hands. We know that special interest groups - whether it be an animal rights organization, a fly fishing group, a turkey hunting federation or Friends of the Furry Little Woods Pig - are highly organized. They have action alerts that they can send by the click of a mouse, not only to local members, but to like-minded people worldwide. In turn, those who receive the message then click their mice and let an agency know what they would like to see happen.

It’s a pretty easy way to get a six-to-one difference. I’m surprised it’s not more. The fact that it isn’t says a lot for the level of discontent among those who oppose the plan.

Bait fishermen and brook-trout eaters are not organized in such a fashion, though their philosophical positioning deserves equal consideration. Bait fishermen have to go through old fashioned approaches, such as petition drives.

If it is true that a show of hands will decide this matter, fisheries needs to wait for the completion of the petition drive before making a decision. According to Maude LeMaster, who is helping Metz with the effort, the petitions can be seen and signed at Chestnut Ridge Store, BJ’s Store, Barton American Legion, The Bassn’ Box, Bill’s Outdoor Center, Barrelville Outdoor Club and Laborers’ Local 616 (Cumberland).

LeMaster said petitions are also circulating in area businesses and being carried by individuals. “We have also sent petitions to the Eastern Shore, because a lot of those people come up here to hunt and fish,” she said. “We will complete the drive toward the end of June.”

And since this may end up being a hand count, don’t forget that the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association has officially opposed the state’s plan. That group represents about 2,000 hands or so. If each member puts up both hands, the count goes to about 4,000. Putting up two hands is no different than clicking a mouse twice.

Should the fishery agency choose Alternative C, the one where landowners can use bait and keep brookies, it won’t help Johnny Public Angler who has no access to those private lands, but enjoys a nice native brook trout covered with a sour cream sauce alongside some rice pilaf and accompanied, of course, by the appropriate white wine. Fry up an old groundhog leg you’ve been keeping in the freezer and you have one of the best Hillbilly Surf and Turf dinners available. Lunsford will receive your comments at blunsford@dnr.state.md.us.

C’mon guys. If you want to turn the Savage River State Forest and its remarkable aquatic resources into a research area then sell it to the University of Maryland and put a fence around it. If you want to make it a club for people who fish in a certain way then do it. Just don’t disguise the effort by calling it scientific. It ain’t.

It is not the responsibility of those who oppose the plan to prove that it won’t work. It is the fish agency’s duty to show us that it will. That has not come close to happening.

At the May 8 public meeting in Frostburg, one biologist made cursory reference to an unnamed study in an unnamed location that he said showed that consumptive fishing reduced the average size of fish near access points. Another biologist said he wanted to be able to take his son brook trout fishing on the Savage in the future. This was hardly the kind of detail needed to sell an idea that will take much away from many anglers. Jim Ritchie, the former member of the Maryland Sportfishing Advisory Commission said it best. “If you have pressing scientific reason to do this, it should be communicated better to the public,” Ritchie told the biologists.

Amen.

Mike Sawyers is outdoor editor of the Cumberland Times-News. He may be contacted at msawyers@times-news.com or (301) 784-2520.



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