Time to take lobster violations seriously
Remember the old TV show, “Truth or Consequences?” Well, under Maine’s new laws, the truth is, lobstermen and others who break the rules will face consequences — severe consequences. Maine Governor Paul LePage signed into law LD 575 last month, An Act to Improve the Enforcement of Maine Lobster Laws.
The lobster industry itself is behind these stiff new laws because fishermen are sick of frequent law-breakers who get off with what they call a slap on the wrist. They wanted laws with some teeth in them — laws which would serve as a major deterrent, and it looks like they got them.
Under the law, trap molesters face a minimum of a two-year license suspension and a maximum of six years. Those found to be fishing more traps than the law allows face a minimum license suspension of three years and a maximum of 10 years. Intentionally fishing sunken trawls brings a minimum three-year suspension and a maximum of 10 years. Removing the eggs from a female lobster will result in a minimum four-year suspension with the potential for permanent revocation. Arson or destruction of a lobster boat also results in permanent revocation. All of these infractions carry even stiffer sentences for second or third offenses, many of them permanent revocation of license. There is no flexibility on the suspension length – the law requires these minimums. The law will apply to anyone found guilty of any of these violations during the past seven years; in other words, a new offense will be considered the second, or third, one.
Unlike many businesses in which the owner can close and lock the door when he leaves work, lobstermen don’t enjoy that luxury. Their traps are vulnerable to others who may choose to haul them and steal their lobsters (that’s right, steal; it’s just like taking money out of someone’s pocket). Lobstermen routinely see their industry compromised by those who cheat in order to make more money. Some fish more traps than is legally allowed or fish sunken trawls hoping they won’t get caught. Female lobsters bearing eggs are illegal to land, so some scrape the eggs off so they can sell them, again, hoping the dealers or wardens don’t notice. Some of these rules already apply, but this new law creates stiffer fines and gives marine patrol and the courts more support in punishing offenders.
As Department of Marine Resources commissioner Patrick Keliher points out in his letter to license holders outlining the new legislation, “I have heard many concerns about the cheating that has been occurring in this fishery, and am aware of the frustration it has caused the majority of our fishermen, who are honest and law abiding. I sincerely hope that these new penalties will serve as an effective deterrent to these behaviors.’’