guest column: Once again, the summer season has been busy

First published in Landings, September, 2017

As would be expected, Marine Patrol Officers have been very busy, with summer in full swing and lobster catches picking up. Officers in southern and midcoast Maine have been involved with violations of the owner/operator law, individuals fishing without a lobster license, illegal dumping, molesting lobster gear and a charge of artificial removal of eggs. Artificial removal of eggs carries a four-year-minimum license suspension. In the case of dumping, the noncommercial fisherman faces a one-year suspension.  

Col. Cornish is the chief of Maine’s Marine Patrol Bureau. DMR photo

The Marine Patrol Bureau has always maintained mutual respect with the commercial fishing industry. On rare occasions this breaks down. I want to remind all fishermen that it is unacceptable to antagonize and/or harass Marine Patrol Officers as they are doing their jobs. If you have an issue with the way a Marine Patrol Officer conducts him or herself, there is a process to address this grievance. You should either contact the Marine Patrol Division office in the officer’s region or call the Augusta office. We take personnel complaints very seriously. 

There have been a couple of incidents during the past few months when officers were treated poorly for no reason other than a level of disrespect that has no place within the industry. In the most recent incident, the non-commercial fisherman went on a tirade, calling the officer derogatory terms and then refused to stand by and follow the officer’s directions. The officer was forced to initiate back-up in order to bring the fisherman under control. Remember, any person licensed by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) has a duty to submit to inspection by a Marine Patrol Officer. Failure to comply with this duty can put your license and livelihood in jeopardy. It is very disconcerting to see these types of incidents happen especially when they involve young officers. 

It’s the time of year when officers are out on the water, but if you don’t see your local officer for a few days, don’t assume he or she is on vacation. Our officers spend a good deal of time doing surveillance this time of year right through the fall. Most of this surveillance is complaint-based and involves an officer sitting on a point or island overlooking an area where trap molesting or some other violation is alleged to be taking place. Although officers do have limitations as to how long a period they can commit to a complaint, it is not unusual for them to sit for several days.  

In eastern Maine, officers have documented several violations for undersized lobsters, trawl violations and trap tag violations. In addition, based on industry complaints, officers are spending additional time patrolling the disputed boundary waters between Canada and Maine known as the Gray Zone.  

Herring and menhaden (pogies) continue to take up a generous amount of Patrol’s time. Pogies are back in the state in force in both southern and midcoast areas, bringing back memories of the late 1980s fish kills. We have received several calls with concerns that another kill could take place. DMR’s Science Bureau and Patrol have been monitoring the situation with the Patrol plane playing a significant role. With oxygen levels solid and fewer predators pushing the fish we have fared quite well to date. 

So why can’t commercial fishermen continue to purse seine large quantities of menhaden, especially given the numbers we are seeing? Because Maine must follow a quota (which DMR was able to have supplemented earlier this summer). We have now exceeded that allowance, however. In late August, licensed fishermen can only harvest 6,000 pounds per day as a by-catch.

Herring seiners are now active. There have been some isolated complaints of gear loss; Patrol has been performing night details in order to make a presence. Officers are also busy with clam, marine worm and periwinkle harvests, not to mention striped bass and recreational boating. In addition, there have been two recent incidents involving gear entanglements with minke whales. Patrol responded to both and was successful in disentangling one whale. There was an attempted civilian effort made on the other whale. The public is reminded that Maine Marine Patrol has a well-trained disentanglement team working in conjunction with NOAA. This team has the best level of expertise and training to create the most positive outcome for entangled whales. Please allow these folks to respond and do their jobs.  

We have had several boat accidents and searches in conjunction with the Coast Guard. Many searches have involved kayaks that came loose from shore and led to a response from both agencies. Please make sure that you secure your kayak and attach contact information to assist searches. When a vessel is found adrift the assumption is made that someone may have been in it. A great deal of time has been spent chasing down kayaks not properly secured.   Enjoy the last remaining weeks of summer.