AUGUSTA — Harsher penalties for fishing law violators went into effect last month after provisions of State Sen. Brian Langley’s (R-Hancock County) bill aimed at curbing violations were adopted as emergency legislation by the Maine Legislature.
LD 575, An Act to Improve the Enforcement of Maine’s Lobster Laws, was adopted after the Senate voted 32-1 in favor of the changes on June 14.
The new law sets minimum punishments for violations such as scrubbing lobsters(removing eggs from females), fishing over the trap limit, fishing sunken trawls (unmarked by a surface buoy) or untagged gear and molesting lobster traps.
Scrubbing, keeping oversized, v-notch or egg-bearing lobsters can draw license revocation after a first through third offense and comes with a minimum penalty of a four-year license suspension.
Fishing over the trap limit or fishing sunken trawls comes with a permanent license revocation after two violations, while trap molesting draws permanent license revocation after three violations. Fishing over the trap limit by 25 or more traps is now considered a Class D misdemeanor.
The minimum license suspension is two years, while the maximum length of revocation is six years for a first violation, but 10 years for a second violation.
The bill also allows the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) commissioner to revoke the license of anyone found guilty of sinking, burning or destroying another fisherman’s vessel. An individual found to have committed any of those offenses would be required to repay the state for the cost of the investigation.
Another provision of Langley’s bill requires that any lobsterman whose license was revoked to re-enter the fishery with a reduced number of traps. The original bill draft set that reduction to 300 traps with an additional 100 per year after that until reaching the zone limit.
However, that provision changed in the committee with the trap reduction to be set at the discretion of the DMR commissioner.
The commissioner may also require someone whose license previously has been suspended or revoked to have a vessel-monitoring system on board. The surreptitious use of electronic surveillance gear in a criminal investigation was one aspect of Langley’s bill that drew the most blowback from lobstermen at a March Marine Resources Committee hearing.
Langley’s original draft did not contain any language that would have called for law enforcement officials to show probable cause or get a judge’s signature on a search warrant prior to attaching a monitoring system.
Fishermen said that aspect of the bill infringed on their rights.
Kim Tucker, counsel for the Maine Lobstering Union, said in March that surveillance without probable cause was “unconstitutional.”
“Anyone who would suggest that in order to be a lobsterman you have to waive your constitutional rights, that’s wrong,” Tucker said at the time. “I feel very passionate that we have a duty to protect and defend the Constitution. It would be easier for department [to enact the punishments], but that’s not the point. It’s about what’s constitutional.”
After committee work sessions, LD 575 now requires that a judge determine there is probable cause and sign a warrant prior to surveillance.