MATINICUS ISLAND – A year after a feud among lobstermen erupted in gunfire, one of the two lobstermen who were on the receiving end of island justice is speaking out against a jury’s decision to acquit the man who fired a near-fatal shot.

Weston Ames said he remembers a bullet whistling by his head during a confrontation with Vance Bunker, a longtime lobsterman on Matinicus Island. His stepbrother, Christopher Young, wasn’t so lucky. The second bullet hit him in the neck, leaving him with lingering health problems.

“The truth of it is, he tried to kill two of us — for no reason,” said Ames, standing on the spot on Steamboat Wharf where the confrontation occurred.

Maine’s lobstermen have long lived under unofficial territorial rules dictating who can set their lobster traps where along the coast. To protect lucrative fishing grounds, lobstermen have been known to cut trap lines, harass one another at sea and, on occasion, show weapons.

On Matinicus Island, events came to a head on July 20, 2009. Bunker and his daughter, Janan Miller, drew guns on Young and Ames. Bunker fired twice, missing Ames but hitting Young.

Bunker and his son-in-law, Alan Miller, believed that Young and Ames were cutting Miller’s trap lines, while Young and Ames had accused Bunker and Miller of doing the same to them.


Bunker, who was considered a pillar of the Matinicus community, said he fired only because he feared for his daughter’s life after Ames grabbed the barrel of the shotgun she was holding. Bunker and his daughter were acquitted of all charges in March by a jury in Knox County Superior Court.

Ames remains shaken a year later. He recalls looking down at his brother, who had blood gushing from his neck. “That’s hard medicine to have your brother look up at you and say, ‘Don’t let me die here,’” he said.

He said it hurt when jurors found Bunker not guilty. “It made it feel like you didn’t matter,” he said.

Islanders are still hesitant to talk about the shooting. It’s a sensitive subject in such a tight-knit place, where barely two dozen people live year-round.

But they’ll tell you that Bunker, for the most part, is no longer welcome on the island. In the weeks after the jury’s verdict, Bunker’s pickup truck was spray-painted and his tires were flattened. His home on the island is now for sale, residents say.

Speaking from Owls Head, on the mainland, Sari Bunker, Bunker’s wife, said the episode has been stressful and recounting it would be like “picking a scab off a wound.”


She declined further comment. Her husband didn’t return a message.

Young and Ames have sued Bunker seeking damages. Despite suffering permanent damage to his left arm and hand, Young has been trying to pull traps this summer with assistance. He’s “not doing too well at it,” said his attorney, Bill Robitzek of Lewiston.

The lobster wars are now simmering.

Trap lines have been cut in Friendship, Cushing and Saco, officials said. In Stonington, somebody cut 11 lobster boats loose from their moorings this summer. The Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating a fire in May that destroyed more than 150 lobster traps in a lobsterman’s yard in Cushing.

But things are relatively quiet on Matinicus.

Representatives from the Maine Marine Patrol, the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, the Coast Guard and the Maine State Police meet regularly to discuss unrest among lobstermen in the Penobscot Bay region.

“Quiet is a good way to describe it,” said Marine Patrol Maj. Alan Talbot. “But I don’t think it would take too much to kindle things.”


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