Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 22, 2014
Marine Patrol investigation leads to charges for Stonington fisherman
Potential fines could reach $100,000
On May 9 the Maine Marine Patrol charged Theodore Gray, a 34-year-old lobsterman from Stonington, with molesting lobster equipment, possession of 269 undersized lobsters and possession of 123 V-notched lobsters. If convicted, Gray faces jail time and fines that could reach $100,000 for the offenses.
Several aspects of this case remain under investigation, and additional charges may be filed, according to information released by the Marine Patrol on May 20.
Gray was charged with “molesting equipment” after he was found in possession of 20 traps that belonged to another harvester. The estimated value of the traps was $2,500, according to Marine Patrol Lieutenant Jay Carroll.
The number of short lobsters in this case is the most in recent Marine Patrol history.
“Through my 28-year career I have only seen a handful of what I would call extreme violations like this involving the taking of short lobsters,” said Marine Patrol Major Jon Cornish. In the last 24 years, there have only been two such cases, which make this one of the most egregious violations I have seen.”
Maine law requires that lobsters harvested that measure less than 3-1/4 inches be released immediately. “This law ensures that young lobsters can mature and reproduce, which is key to the sustainable health of the fishery,” said Lieutenant Carroll.
Maine law also requires that harvesters who catch female lobsters with eggs use a v-notch tool or a sharp knife to remove a quarter-inch-deep portion from the flipper immediately to the right of the center one. The practice of notching a known “breeder” extends the lobster’s protection beyond the hatching of its eggs. “The v-notch program is another critical element in the Maine lobster industry’s efforts to ensure the health and future of this resource which is so important to Maine’s identity and economy,” said Lieutenant Carroll.
While molesting lobster gear is a civil violation with a potential fine of between $100 and $500, the other two violations come with much more stringent penalties.
Possession of undersized lobsters is a Class D crime with the possibility of one year in jail. Penalties include $500 for each violation and $100 for each lobster involved up to and including the first five, plus an additional $200 for each lobster in excess of five. In addition to jail time, the total potential fine facing Gray for this violation is $53,800.
Possession of v-notched lobsters is also a Class D crime with the possibility of one year in jail. In addition, a fine of $500 for each violation can be imposed, as well as a fine of $100 for each lobster up to and including the first five, and a fine of $400 for each lobster in excess of five. For this offense, Gray faces a fine totaling $48,200.
“The seemingly blatant disregard for marine resources law exposed by this investigation is both shocking and reprehensible,” said Carroll. “Marine Patrol recognizes that the vast majority of commercial fishermen work every day to protect and promote sustainable fishing practices. This case is unusual and extreme.”
Maine Marine Patrol Officers Owen Reed and Rustin Ames, working with the assistance of Game Warden Brian Tripp, conducted the investigation that led to Gray’s arrest for violating laws designed to protect and preserve Maine’s most lucrative fishery, and to protect the assets of Maine’s lobster harvesters.
“I commend the Marine Patrol Officers for putting this case together,” said Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “Their dedication and diligence were an integral part of helping to uncover one of the most egregious resource violations in the history of Marine Patrol. I also want to thank the Maine Warden Service and Warden Brian Tripp for their valuable assistance not only in this case, but on a daily basis as we work together to protect all of Maine’s vital natural resources.”