Mainers always help Mainers, and one statewide program is expanding to put fresh fish into the hands of those who need it the most; the poor and hungry.

'Tis the season for ice fishing derbies and one angler has figured out a way to deal with regulations, making it possible for weigh-in fish from derbies to be distributed to hunger-relief agencies.

A new pilot project in southern Maine is being coordinated through the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Foresty's Hunters for the Hungry Program.

Maine's Hunters for the Hungry Program was started in 1996 and it has grown steadily since then providing nutritious game meat to food pantries, shelters and individual households with a medical need.

Don Morrison of Wayside Food Programs in Portland says he was fishing in a tournament last summer and when he saw all the weigh-in fish he started to think about how that fish might be put to good use here in Maine.

"Because of my background in the seafood industry, I have knowledge of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, or HACCP regulations dealing with safe handling procedures," states Morrison.

Morrison was successfully able to combine his knowledge and resources, with those of the Hunters for the Hungry program, to expand the program to Maine's fishing enthusiasts.

This Saturday, the Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby is being held in New Gloucester and Morrison says weigh-in fish from those who wish to donate will be immediately put on ice and taken to a HACCP-certified seafood processor in Portland for proper packaging.

The idea is catching on too because the Sebago Lake Rotary Ice Fishing Derby next month is also supporting the concept.

Morrison says he'd like to see the idea replicated throughout the state.

Processors interested in getting involved with the program can call (207) 287-7513.