AUGUSTA — A $350,000 trap-cutting war amongst Blue Hill Bay lobstermen has prompted the state’s Operation Game Thief to offer a $15,000 reward to anyone with information about the incidents.
According to a news release from the Department of Marine Resources, the trap war along the border of Lobster Zones B and C has been ongoing since this summer and has escalated recently with losses well into six figures.
“This has been going on since early summer, but in recent weeks, we have received numerous reports of traps being cut along the B/C line, and the possibility of these incidents continuing to escalate has prompted me to approve additional Marine Patrol assets, including overtime and vessels, to support investigations into these incidents,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a Monday morning press release.
Intentional trap cutting impacts the livelihoods of lobstermen and their families and raises tensions between adjacent lobster management zones.
“This trap war is without a doubt the most costly loss of gear I have witnessed in my 32-year career with the Maine Marine Patrol,” Col. Jon Cornish said in a statement. “In this instance, gear loss is estimated to far exceed $350,000 dollars. Trap molesting is a serious offence with the potential for multiple-year license suspensions.”
State waters are divided into seven lobster management zones. Zone B extends westward from Schoodic Point to Newbury Neck and includes eastern Blue Hill Bay. Zone C stretches from Newbury Neck to Cape Rosier, encompassing eastern Penobscot Bay and the waters around North Haven, Vinalhaven, Deer Isle and Isle au Haut.
In addition to a lobsterman’s primary zone – usually the zone in which he or she lives – the license holder also is permitted to fish up to 49 percent of total traps in a neighboring zone.
Until earlier this fall, when its management council opted to institute a 1:1 exit ratio for new lobster licenses, Zone C waters were open to any fisherman with a lobster license.
The open zone has caused anxiety for some Zone B lobstermen who believe too many Zone C traps are being set in Zone B, which has more stringent entry requirements.
There are nearly twice as many lobster licenses in Zone C as there are in Zone B.
State Rep. Brian Hubbell said last week that lobstermen from Zone B have expressed to him that they are concerned with Zone C fishermen’s increased activity in Zone B waters.
“Zone C is essentially open, and there is the perception that new fishermen are starting in Zone C and essentially being pushed into Zone B,” said Hubbell. “It feels unfair to Zone B fishermen, especially the ones who are still on the waiting list to get in.”
More than 50 fishermen are on the Zone B lobster license waiting list. Some have been there for nearly 10 years.
Some Zone B lobstermen recently approached Hubbell about introducing a bill into the state legislature to prohibit double-tagging, as it’s called when a lobsterman fishes in two zones.
The Marine Patrol is asking anyone with information to call the Operation Game Thief Hotline at 1-800-253-7887 (1-800-ALERT-US). Information also can be provided through the OGT online tip reporting form at maineogt.org/report. Information provided by phone or the Tip Reporting Form can be provided anonymously.