AUGUSTA — A hearing examiner has upheld the one-year suspension of the license of a lobster buyer accused of failing to report a portion of the purchases made off a barge based in Seal Cove in Tremont.
In August, Maine Marine Patrol officers summonsed Donald Crabtree Sr. of Crabtree Seafood in Brewer on a charge of violating the Department of Marine Resources’ (DMR) reporting requirements, a civil violation. Crabtree appealed his suspension. A hearing examiner last week determined that the suspension is justified, according to Sgt. Troy Dow of the marine patrol.
Crabtree began using the town-owned Seal Cove Wharf as a base for his lobster business in the spring of 2015. He was mooring his 45-foot barge there and used the facility’s ramp to load bait before motoring into Blue Hill Bay to sell bait to fishermen and buy lobsters from them. The day’s catch later was offloaded at the ramp.
Dow said the investigation into Crabtree’s buying practices began in the summer of 2015. As a lobster buyer, Crabtree is required to keep accurate records of the product he buys and report that activity on a monthly basis to the DMR.
Dow said officers conducted surveillance at Seal Cove, watching buys being made from the barge and monitoring the unloading of lobsters when the vessel returned to the ramp. “Then we’d wait for those reports,” he said.
After discrepancies between the officers’ observations and the filed reports were discovered, the officers then went to the fishermen whose lobsters Crabtree was not reporting. The case wouldn’t have been as airtight without their cooperation in allowing access to their sales records, Dow said.
“There was some pretty compelling evidence against Crabtree to have a pile of slips from fishermen,” he explained.
Accurate reports of catches are extremely important to the DMR, which uses the information to make decisions regarding the management of a particular fishery.
“That’s one piece of the puzzle the department uses to balance an industry,” Dow said.
Crabtree still has to answer the charges in court, where he faces fines of between $100 and $500 for each violation, Dow said. He also has the option of asking the DMR commissioner for a hearing to reduce the length of his one-year license suspension.