TREMONT — A lobster buyer based out of Seal Cove is facing a year’s suspension of his license and a fine for allegedly violating Department of Marine Resources (DMR) reporting requirements.
Donald Crabtree Sr., 48, of Crabtree Seafood in Brewer was summonsed Aug. 10 on a charge of violating the reporting requirements rule Chapter 8, a civil violation. Crabtree is scheduled to appear in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court for a dispositional conference on Dec. 16.
According to Jeff Nichols, communications director of the DMR, the charge follows an investigation that began in the summer months of 2015 and continued through much of the summer of 2016. Crabtree is accused of buying lobsters from fishermen and not giving out sales receipts, Nichols said. Lobster buyers are required to report all transactions, including those made with cash.
Crabtree was reporting some of his transactions, Nichols said, adding that he did not know the dollar amount of the unreported buys.
“That reporting requirement is an important tool that is used to manage the resource,” Nichols said.
Crabtree, on Sept. 7, was issued a notice that his license to buy seafood had been suspended, effective Sept. 17. He has requested an administrative hearing on the suspension, which has been scheduled for Jan. 11. Until then, the suspension has been stayed, Nichols said.
Along with the possible suspension of his license, Crabtree faces fines of $100 for each violation.
Nichols said he could not release further details of the case.
Crabtree began using the town-owned Seal Cove Wharf as a base for his lobster business in the spring of 2015. He moors his 45-foot barge there and uses the facility’s ramp to load bait before motoring into Blue Hill Bay to sell bait to and buy lobsters from fishermen. The day’s catch later is offloaded at the ramp.
Crabtree’s use of the Seal Cove facility led to a disagreement with the town over fees in 2015.
Crabtree had paid the $400 annual fee for using Seal Cove, but selectmen, concerned about the additional pressure on the facility and the disparity between commercial use fees there and at the Bernard Wharf, later raised the fee to $1,000. Crabtree was assessed an extra $600.
Crabtree balked at paying the additional money. In a letter to the town, he outlined significant improvements that the town would have to make at Seal Cove to justify the increase. He also hired an attorney, Charles Gilbert III, of Gilbert and Greif PA of Bangor, to represent him.
Gilbert, in a letter to the town, contended that selectmen had no authority to increase the fee and stated that “this matter is not going to go away and Mr. Crabtree is not going to back down, so kindly rescind the illegal charge against him for which there is no basis.”
Crabtree did not pay the $600 until November 2015 and then only after Harbormaster Justin Seavey issued him an order to cease use of the facility for nonpayment.
In January, selectmen voted to refund the extra $600 to Crabtree.
This is not the first time one of Crabtree’s businesses has generated controversy. He was the owner of the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, where bare-breasted waitresses served customers. The restaurant was destroyed in a 2009 fire intentionally set by the boyfriend of one of the waitresses. The coffee shop later reopened but closed its doors in 2011.