By Carol Kozma
BOSTON -- The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has made some local anglers angry by proposing regulations that would prohibit the old New England tradition of trapping chubsuckers, shiners and other bait fish.
The state agency is holding a public hearing Tuesday in West Boylston to discuss regulations that would make it illegal for fishermen to trap American eel, Creek chubsuckers, Emerald shiner, Spottail shiner and Bluntnose minnow for their own use.
The regulations would also outlaw the commercial sale of eels, carp, suckers and shiners from inland waters.
Local recreational fishermen are upset about the proposed changes.
"In the past 40 years, my son and I have been baiting our own fish," said Steve LaPrise, a 65-year old recreational fisherman from Templeton. "We have always used our own shiners."
LaPrise traps shiners in local ponds and keeps them in aquariums in his garage until he goes ice fishing. He also keeps a box in his garage where people can leave donations for him if they want bait from him.
LaPrise said the regulations would force him to buy a dozen shiners at $8 to $10 from bait shops. LaPrise fishes with a dozen friends, and they use more than a dozen shiners per trip. They would have to pay about $100 altogether just to go fishing, LaPrise said.
"We would never pay that kind of money to ice fish," said LaPrise.
Caleb Slater, a fisheries biologist at the Division of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the regulation would limit over-harvesting of fish and the threats of the spread of aquatic diseases and invasive animals and plants.
"We are trying to do away with the commercial harvesting of bait fish (in Massachusetts)," Slater said.
Maine allows baitfish to be harvested only within the state, to make sure no diseases come from other states, and Vermont has strict regulations because zebra mussels, an invasive species, have overtaken waterways.
Slater said fishermen like LaPrise would still be able to harvest 10 different species for their personal use, including white sucker, golden shiner, yellow perch, fathead minnow and herring.
Bill Biswanger, of Townsend, an outdoors columnist for The Sun of Lowell and an avid fisherman, said the changes would not affect fishermen overall.
"Honest to God, it's not going to impact them (fishermen) at all," Biswanger said, pointing out that the division is restricting only inland fish, not fish in rivers that empty to the ocean.
Slater said most bait shops already import safe, farm raised baitfish, like shiners from Arkansas.
"Over 90 percent of fish that is used as bait is grown in aqua-culture condition," Slater said, which means they are certified disease-free.
Rodney Zukowski, the owner of Arlington Bait and Tackle in Arlington, said he would be hurt by the regulation changes. He would no longer be able to sell eels, carp and suckers.
Ross Azud, owner of Pro Game Scent, a bait shop in Clinton, said the changes to the regulations would not affect him because he does not sell shiners, but he has heard others complain about the regulations.
"I am interested in what (the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is) doing. Some people don't like it," Azud said.
LaPrise said it may be hard for people to attend the scheduled hearing on a Tuesday at 1 p.m. He encourages other fisherman to go.
"There is a lot of freedom we are losing as we get older," LaPrise said. "I am certainly going to go down there and let them know I am not happy with this."
Follow Carol Kozma on Twitter @CarolKT24.