Fishing enthusiasts have long argued about the advantages of artificial lures versus natural bait. These days, however, the discussion has gotten more complicated. Some fishing experts in Maine are calling for a ban on nonbiodegradable rubber worms.

‘These soft rubber baits are everywhere,’ said Bob Van Riper, a regional fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. ‘If you walk into any sports store they have a row of them in there. The problem is that when the fish eat these worms, they only break down marginally. The bottom line is they are taking in an artificial substance that does them no good.’

The worms can also end up polluting lake beds, and may affect other animals down the food chain. Fishermen love the rubber worms because they hook more fish—they have “more shape and more action,” anti-artificial-bait activist Bill Gagnon admits, and are often scented with attractive smells. But there’s another argument for their use: Studies have shown that using artificial bait in catch-and-release fishing reduces mortality rates. In fact, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife may ban the use of live bait at certain fishing spots, because it increases incidences of “deep hooking” that damage fish that are released back into the water.

So, live bait or artificial bait? The answer, according to Bill Gagnon, is probably to require that artificial bait be biodegradable. But that would necessitate pressure on the manufacturing companies, either from the fishermen themselves, or from lawmakers. So far, no one’s biting.

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