Fish and Game rule changes include new day of free fishing
Closing fishing off for one species, a final legal protection for loons and a free day to promote ice fishing highlight changes in rules and laws affecting fishing in New Hampshire next year.
For decades, New Hampshire has had a day of free fishing during the summer season, most commonly on the first Saturday in June. The free day lets residents and out-of-state residents fish anywhere in New Hampshire without a fishing license.
Now, ice fishing will be free on Saturday, Jan. 21, after the Legislature granted the Fish and Game Department permission to expand the tradition.
“I think a free day like the summer season has had is a great idea. Ice fishing is something a lot of people don’t think will appeal to them; then they try it and they get hooked,” said Mike Allerdice of Allenstown.
On Christmas Eve, Allerdice spent several hours fishing on Stevens Pond in Manchester.
“I’m biased because I like winter fishing more than the summer variety,” said Allerdice, who was joined on the pond by his 8-year-old daughter, Adriana.
Stevens Pond yields bass, pickerel and perch through the ice, said Allerdice, who caught two pickerel.
“I was surprised at the depth of the ice — 10 inches deep,” he said. “Only a week ago it was only four inches, so you can see what a cold snap can do to harden things up.”
State officials said creating a holiday for all forms of fishing only made sense.
“Ice fishing is a recreation that’s growing in popularity and we really feel that making it available to everyone one day for free will encourage even more people to give this activity a try,” said Jason Smith, fisheries division chief with Fish and Game.
There is a key exception to the free day of fishing.
Anyone who is attending an ice fishing tournament on Jan. 21 will have to be licensed and pay all entrance fees to compete.
“These tournaments are a major source of fundraising for charities across the state and we in no way wanted to interfere with that,” Smith said.
All regulations will apply on the free-fishing day, including limits on how many fish can be taken, size restrictions, etc.
Meanwhile, Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va., is conducting a New Hampshire Freshwater Anglers Survey; the study will be unveiled in the spring.
“It’s been 12 years since we conducted our last comprehensive angler survey,” said Scott Decker, New Hampshire Fish and Game Inland Fisheries Programs supervisor. “The survey is important for planning and management of our fisheries resources.”
Whitefish to be protected
The agency is finalizing the process to declare the round whitefish as a state-listed species. That means in 2017, it cannot legally be caught in New Hampshire.
The lake whitefish remains a fish that is legal in the state; it’s usually longer in length and not as wide as the round whitefish.
Smith said the species closed to fishing is not commonly found in waters across the state, but in larger, deeper bodies of water such as Newfound Lake.
The population of this fish has been declining over the decade, he said.
“There is no new population and we are worried that as fish die of old age and natural causes, they will eventually go away,” Smith said.
The decision to close the season is not necessarily irreversible.
“We are going to continue to study it and if we find the population over time is increasing, we could eventually evaluate whether or not it could accommodate some harvest.”
Final lead-based jig ban
The Legislature and wildlife enthusiasts have worked for more than a decade to place limits on the sale of lead-based sinkers and jigs that have been fatal for loons if they are swallowed.
For the past two years, there’s been a ban on using these lead devices if they were one ounce or less in weight because that’s the size loons can swallow.
But until this latest change, you could use such a small, lead-based sinker or jig if it was at least an inch in length.
Now all such devices of one ounce or less are illegal to use, Smith said.
In 2015, the Legislature gave the Fish and Game Department the authority to adjust its own fees to hunt or to fish, in part because the agency faced a structural deficit.
All fishing fees were adjusted upward, except for one. That, too, will change in 2017.
The fee for hosting a fishing tournament in which competitors can keep the fish they catch will go up from $25 to $49.
Until now there was no fee for taking part in a fishing tournament in which competitors had to release any fish they caught in the contest. Going forward, there will be a $10 fee for competing in that tournament.
“We are just trying to cover our administrative costs,” Smith said.
The agency also is clarifying an existing ban on letting the public tag or mark fish without getting a written permit to do so from the department.
The state clips the fins of fish as part of its ongoing programs to monitor the health and stocking of fish; letting private individuals clip fish without permission only makes it more difficult for the state to keep accurate information, Smith said.
Even though this ban has been in place since 1991, Smith said some fishermen still are fond of placing marks on fish they catch and release.
“They often do it to keep track to see if that fish they caught two weeks ago is the same one now in the boat or is it different,” Smith said. “The problem is that unless you are a licensed professional doing this, you can compromise the specie and contribute to its premature death.”
For recreational saltwater fishermen, anglers in the coming year can now take up to one Atlantic cod in a season, which opened Oct. 1 and closes July 31st. Recreational fishing for cod last year was closed.
The legal cod taken must be at least 24 inches long or if headless, the filet has to be a minimum of 14 inches.
A change in fishing for haddock requires the filet has to be at least 13 inches long; it had been 10 inches last year. Up to 15 haddock can be taken per day and that season opens March 1 and closes April 14.