Vandalism and petty conflict remain commonplace in Maine’s lobster industry this summer, but the violence that erupted along the midcoast last year has been largely absent.

Maine law enforcement officials say disputes over lobster fishing territory have not been nearly as volatile. They say a booming season and slightly improved lobster prices have helped ease the tension. While vandalism of fishing equipment and boats still occurs, the conflicts have not escalated as they did last summer.

“They haven’t risen to the level of the Matinicus shooting and the boat sinkings,” said Maj. Alan Talbot of the Maine Marine Patrol.

Talbot was referring to a feud over lobster fishing grounds off Matinicus Island by lobstermen last summer. Vance Bunker, 68, of Matinicus, and his daughter, Janan Miller, were charged in a shooting that left Christopher Young, a sternman on his stepbrother Weston Ames’ boat, with a bullet in his neck. Both father and daughter were acquitted in a trial during the winter.

In an unrelated incident two weeks after the shooting, the boats of three Owls Head Harbor lobstermen were intentionally sunk in a territorial dispute in nearby Ash Point. Law enforcement officials have yet to determine who did it.

While lobstermen have a tradition of policing their own waters, last summer saw a new level of enforcement. The resulting violence attracted national attention from the media, which quickly dubbed the incidents lobster wars.

This year, said Talbot, there have been only pockets of trouble. Still, the incidents highlight the Wild West character of Maine’s lobster fishery.

One hundred fifty lobster traps stacked in a Cushing lobsterman’s yard were intentionally set afire on May 18, and a lobster boat was burned July 1 at a mooring in Stonington. Both incidents are under investigation by the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

A day after the boat fire, someone cut 11 lobster boats loose in Stonington. Law enforcement officials said the incident appears to be unrelated to the fire.

“It is still under investigation but there is really nothing to suggest it had anything to do with fishing,” said Lt. Dale Sprowl of Maine Marine Patrol.

On Aug. 1, two Machiasport lobstermen were arrested in connection with a fight on a fish pier over territory. Jessie Moody, 21, was charged with assault for allegedly attacking James Wood, 43, with a 4-foot piece of wood. Wood was charged with criminal mischief for allegedly breaking the windows of Moody’s truck.

The incidents come amid the usual reports of vandalized fishing gear. This summer, Maine Marine Patrol has heard complaints about cut trap lines in Kittery, Saco, Harpswell, Cushing and Friendship. Talbot didn’t have a tally for the year to date, but generally the reports of molested traps run into the thousands annually.

He said since the beginning of the month incidents have tapered off, which he attributes to the current run of good fishing.

“When everyone is catching lobsters they are happy and not as concerned about the other guy,” said Talbot.

The bulk of the problems occur in the most productive lobster fishing areas. There are far fewer reports of tension along the southern Maine coast. Only 500 of the states’s 6,600 licensed lobstermen fish from Portland to the New Hampshire border.

“You will have 200 to 300 in one harbor in the midcoast,” said James Henderson, a Saco lobsterman who is chairman for the state’s southernmost lobster zone.

Some say that improved lobster prices and demand have helped ease the tension this year.

Lobstermen are getting about $3 a pound for their catch, up from last summer’s low of $2.75 a pound. But current prices have yet to bounce back to their pre-recession peak, even though demand for live lobsters has rebounded.

Patrice McCarron, executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, said last summer’s violence was an anomaly. She said the management system works and lobstermen share a strong sense of stewardship of their resource.

“Modern fishery management is doing its best to mirror what we do here in Maine,” she said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]


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