by John Dieffenbacher-Krall
for the Maine Sportsman (published in the March 2006 Issue)
Clem Fay, the Penobscot Nation’s Fisheries Director who died October 16, left a large number of enduring admirers. No tributes have appeared in the Maine media to my knowledge to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Clem Fay. Yet for the many people who knew Clem some of the highest words of praise that could describe a person fill their remembrances.
Clem’s passion for fishing led him to pursue a career as a fisheries biologist. He began working for the Penobscot Nation Department of Natural Resources in October 1988 as a Fisheries Development Specialist. He eventually became the director of the Penobscot Nation Fisheries Program, a position he held until his death.
Clem consistently advocated for a whole ecosystem approach to fisheries management. He had little patience for fisheries management decisions that cater to specific constituencies that ignore the entire resource. As much as he personally loved to fish, he always advocated for the protection of the resource first.
Whatever the work assignment, Clem fully devoted himself to the effort. Penobscot Nation members and professional colleagues repeatedly use words such as “dedicated,” “professional,” and “passionate” to describe his approach to his work.
Clem always grounded his positions in the best scientific information available. Ron Kreisman, former deputy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and frequent consultant to environmental groups, remembers Clem as “pure credibility.” In an era when scientists sometimes prostitute themselves and science for their clients, such integrity and honesty reflect the unique spirit of this man.
Widely acknowledged among his peers for his fisheries expertise, Clem served on several governmental committees and working groups. Penobscot Nation Chief James Sappier states in a tribute to Clem that “he actually was one of the most respected fisheries experts in the northeastern United States…” Chief Sappier’s praise comes from an individual with more than 40 years of service to his people and a distinguished career at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that allowed him to meet many scientists and environmental professionals. John Banks, Natural Resources Director for the Penobscot Nation, claims “you’ll not find anyone as dedicated to the fisheries profession as Clem.”
Clem devoted himself for over 17 years to the protection and restoration of the Penobscot River. He played an instrumental role in the defeat of the proposed Basin Mills Dam. The Basin Mills Dam project would have placed a sixth main stem dam on the Penobscot River, further diminishing the prospect of restoring the many sea-run fish species that historically used the Penobscot watershed. Though many individuals and groups worked to defeat this proposal by Bangor Hydro, Clem provided the scientific reasoning to stop the project.
As anglers discovered the spectacular smallmouth bass fishing on the Penobscot River in the 1980s and 1990s, Clem in his role as fisheries biologist for the Penobscot Nation helped institute several regulations to protect the fishery. One concern the Penobscot Nation expressed about the increasingly popular smallmouth fishery involved the rapid rise of bass fishing tournaments on the Penobscot River. Tribal members were concerned that the increased fishing pressure and associated mortality could diminish the excellent fishery.
Clem wrote to Peter Borque, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) on March 6, 1992 to suggest several specific changes to proposed statewide bass fishing tournament rules. He stressed the importance of recognizing inherent differences in a riverine system such as the Penobscot River and a lake. Perhaps his most important point encompassed the need for DIF&W to promulgate regulations specific to the Penobscot River in order to protect the smallmouth fishery and address the Penobscot Nation’s unique cultural and legal interests in the fishery.
Subsequently, the Penobscot Nation based on Clem’s work recommended to DIF&W allowing only catch, measure, and release bass fishing tournaments during the critical spring spawning season, restricting the number of boats permitted in any single tournament and instituting distinct fishing zones within the Penobscot River from the Milford Dam to Mattaceunk Dam. Today, many of Clem’s original suggestions inform the current DIF&W regulations (2.06 Rules Pertaining to Bass Tournaments on the Penobscot River Between Milford and Weldon Dams).