Guest Column: Marine Patrol Getting Ready for Summer Months

“A license is a privilege,” said Col. Jon Cornish, chief of the Marine Patrol Bureau.
DMR photo.

Is it just me or has this been a very late spring? Finally, we are seeing 60 degrees. Officers are winding down from a productive scallop season and working through a busy elver season with the price at $2500 a pound, keeping folks busy. Our summer fleet of vessels is preparing to go into the field and we are all looking forward to improved weather for getting outdoors. So, what’s new with Marine Patrol?

At the March Maine Fishermen’s Forum, we all watched with pride as Specialist Sean Dow received the coveted Maine Lobstermen’s Association Officer of the Year Award. Sean was recognized for his strong efforts to get the P/V Dirigo underway, as well as his solid commitment to supporting team work in Section 4 (Belfast to Gouldsboro).

In addition, Officer Jason Leavitt was recognized in mid-April as the Northeast Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association (NECLECA) Officer of the Year. Jason has a strong field presence in his area and puts a large effort into Patrol’s recruitment program. He received his award at a ceremony in Burlington, Vermont. Jason covers the Jonesport/Beal’s Island Patrol area. We are proud of both of these exceptional officers.

Another award recipient is Officer James Mayotte. James covers the Boothbay region and is being recognized as the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) Boating Safety Officer of the Year. James has proven himself an avid boater and focuses on both commercial and recreational boating safety in a region that has its share of both.

As I have often stated in the past, with the retirement of several of our experienced officers the Bureau has become very young. Forty percent of our current workforce has less than five years’ experience. We are doing well with both recruiting and retention. We are seeing good quality candidates and no one has left us for over a year. I believe our success is related to improved recruitment efforts and the recruitment and retention pay increase in 2016.

We have three new officers currently at the Police Academy who are due to graduate in mid-May, just in time for our busy summer season. Two of them are already trained in the field and will hit their regions running, we hope. The third will be entering our field training program. Officer Alexandre Michaud will be covering the St. George Patrol, while Officer Emily Lopez will be transferring into the South Harpswell Patrol from Kittery. Officer Nicholas Stillwell will be getting his feet wet in the Owl’s Head Patrol. All three are off to a prosperous start.

In addition, Patrol is in the process of refilling the Kittery Patrol with an officer who covered southern Maine as a seasonal last summer. Officer Taylor Shewokis will be coming on board full time in mid-May and entering our training program. He will be attending the Police Academy in August. We are also in the process of hiring a new boat specialist to cover southern Maine, from Yarmouth to Kittery. This position was recently vacated due to a retirement. Lastly, we are conducting new hire interviews in early May to fill at least one additional position, likely Downeast. By comparison, last year at this time we had eight vacancies. If all goes well we will be down to two this summer.

It should also be mentioned that Officer Tyler Sirois is transferring from the Vinalhaven Patrol to Stonington, bringing that region back to full capacity just in time for the launching of the Bureau’s new 26-foot General Marine vessel.

As fishing season approaches please keep safety paramount in your mind. Please ensure all your safety gear is up to snuff and that you have planned for the unexpected. Also, below are a few important rules to keep in mind.

All lobster gear must be tagged with a 2018 tag no later than June 1. If you don’t order your tags with a month leeway you may not receive them in time. Of course, if there are some exceptional circumstances as always Patrol will work with you. Make sure you keep your local officer updated. Also, do not neglect second zone tags. This is a relatively new law statewide and Patrol is finding some issues with adherence. Every trap that you currently fish outside your primary zone must have a second tag.

We seem to be getting more complaints of wet stored gear. Some fishermen have received two or more violations of this regulation. We all know that the right whale issue is going to get more attention given last year’s deaths. It is likely that enforcement of wet storage and other whale-safe provisions is only going to become more emphasized. Please tend to your gear. Losing a livelihood for leaving gear unattended seems like a high price to pay. Why risk it?

Patrol’s most frequently asked question is “What do you consider a v-notch?” The confusion is understandable, given that there is no specific definition other than “a v-notch of any size or a mutilation that could hide that notch makes that female lobster illegal to possess.” Even though we get asked this question a lot and spend a good deal of time at meetings explaining the law, we observe very few violations each season. My experience is that fishermen are generally cautious when it comes to deciphering what they consider a v-notched lobster. This is a good thing. If you do have questions, reach out to your local officer and go over what is considered illegal. Remember, zero tolerance means there is no allowance for keeping any v-notched lobster. There is no perfect flipper definition. Marine Patrol Officers are all trained in how to recognize a v-notch and a mutilated female lobster. We work to ensure a level of consistency up and down the coast. If a fisherman disagrees with an officer, officers have been advised to take a picture of the flipper and to confer with another officer or supervisor. Officers will be having additional training on this issue later this spring.

Atlantic halibut cannot be possessed on a vessel holding a Federal Permit at the same time as lobsters are possessed. State license holders who do not possess a Federal Permit may not possess Atlantic halibut in federal waters. Commercial fishermen targeting halibut may now use only 250 hooks as opposed to 450. The season has been reduced by 20 days, May 11 through June 20.

As always, if you have a question please ask for clarification from a Marine Patrol Officer before taking a risk. Effective communication on a fisherman’s part generally avoids potential problems later. We appreciate the overall support that lobstermen provide to Marine Patrol. Have a safe and prosperous summer and fall season.

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