Recently, efforts were made in Maine to ban the use of soft baits when fishing. Arguments in favor of the ban centered on aesthetic issues related to lost/discarded lures in their state’s waters, and concerns over the health of individual fish that were found to have ingested soft baits. To date, no studies have been conducted on wild populations that show deleterious population-level effects. Therefore, this remains primarily an aesthetic issue, rather than a biologic one.
In 2013, the Maine Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife considered a bill to ban the use of soft baits (“rubber” or “soft plastic” lures) in Maine’s waters. Arguments in favor of the ban centered on lost/discarded lures in the state’s waters, and concerns over the health of individual fish that were found to have ingested soft baits.
In May 2013, a resolve to study the effects of soft-baits and non-biodegradable hooks in the state of Maine became law and ordered the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to study the effects of soft baits and non-biodegradable hooks on fish and other wildlife in the state. The results of the study were presented to the Joint Standing Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on January 28, 2014. The report concluded: “…the Department does not recommend any legislation at this time” resulting in the bill’s removal before the legislature.
During its testimony in 2013, the Department noted that the largest problem with soft baits was that they were a litter problem in Maine’s waters. Therefore, through its final report, it provided several recommendations to enhance its angler education programs by involving anglers, angler organizations, and the sport fishing industry. These enhancements are intended to minimize the loss of, and improve the proper disposal of soft baits in state waters by anglers. A similar bill from 2019 yielded the same result, leading to a department and industry-driven educational approach to the issue. For example, the Pitch It campaign was initiated by Keep America Fishing (KAF) in direct response to Maine’s proposed bill and has received thousands of signatures and support from major fishing organizations.
Points of Interest
- The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife report indicated that there is a very low rate of finding soft baits in the stomachs of fish, ranging from 0.4% to 5.2% of fish sampled, and research indicates that the fish simply regurgitate or pass soft baits without complications.
- The sport fishing industry is not aware of any study in the wild showing soft baits have a detrimental impact on fish populations.
- Years of laboratory tests have shown that most fish regurgitate or pass the baits without harm.
- Angler education programs can be effective in reducing lost/discarded soft baits, without the need for an outright ban on the use of soft baits.
- Forty-four percent of Maine’s angling days are done by non-resident anglers, and the ban would have affected not only bait and tackle shops but also all tourism businesses.
- Recreational angling has significant economic impacts on the state. Anglers in Maine provide a $396 million economic infusion to the state, supporting 6,723 Maine jobs.
- Banning soft-baits would negatively affect both state and local economies, as well as angling-related tourism.
- In 2019, LD 695 was introduced in Maine, which sought to prohibit fishing in inland waters using non-biodegradable hooks or certain non-biodegradable artificial lures. Following public comment, the Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife voted to carry this bill into the 2020 sessions, allowing the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to organize a working group to assess the topic more closely. Following the Department’s working group recommendation to predominately pursue non-regulatory means, the bill was killed in the Maine Senate in February 2020.
Sportsmen-legislators should be cautious of similar legislation surfacing in their states. Legislators are urged to work alongside their state fish and wildlife agencies, sportsmen’s groups, and other stakeholders to ensure fish and wildlife management decisions remain driven by sound science.