TREMONT — An Ellsworth man is attracting a lot of attention with the wholesale lobster-buying business he is running from a barge based in Seal Cove.
Donald Crabtree buys lobsters from and sells bait to fishermen from the 45-foot barge, which he moors in Seal Cove. When it’s time to go to work, he and the crew motor into Blue Hill Bay, where they anchor and set up shop.
“We decided to go out to where the boats are,” Crabtree said by phone on Tuesday.
His preferred location is near Trumpet Island, which, like Seal Cove, is in the town of Tremont. The small island at the mouth of Blue Hill Bay is a convenient stop for fishermen out of numerous harbors.
“We chose Seal Cove because it was closest to Trumpet,” Crabtree said. “On different days we’re moored in different locations. It depends on the weather.”
Crabtree said he is buying from fishermen out of Seal Cove, Bartlett’s Landing, Trenton, Blue Hill and Naskeag Point in Brooklin. He started in the business 14 years ago.
Sergeant Troy Dow of the Maine Marine Patrol said that while Crabtree’s approach to buying lobsters is not typical, there are others who operate similar floating businesses.
“It’s actually quite convenient for the fishermen,” he said.
After a day of buying lobsters, the barge returns to Seal Cove and unloads at the dock there.
Crabtree, as a commercial user of the Seal Cove dock, is required to pay a fee set in the town’s wharf and facilities ordinance. Town records show he paid the $400 fee and was issued a permit on June 1.
Crabtree’s unique business model hasn’t gone unnoticed by selectmen, who discussed the new use at Seal Cove at a meeting Monday.
Dean Wass, a selectman and lobster fisherman, opened the discussion by pointing out the discrepancy between fees for commercial use of the Bernard Wharf and Seal Cove. Crabtree paid $400 for his annual permit, while lobster buyers pay $5,000 for a permit at the Bernard Wharf, he said.
In response, Town Manager Dana Reed pointed out that more services are available in Bernard.
“They get more for their money there,” Reed said.
No action was taken. Reed agreed to run the issue by the harbor committee for a recommendation.
On Tuesday, Reed said the fee schedule for commercial users changed July 1; when Crabtree obtained his permit, the permit for using the Bernard Wharf was $2,500.
Crabtree is no stranger to running businesses that attract attention. He was the owner of the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro. The coffee shop, where bare-breasted waitresses served customers, was destroyed in a 2009 fire intentionally set by the boyfriend of one of the waitresses. After reopening following the fire, the coffee shop closed its doors in 2011.