Guest Column: 2018 was a productive year for Marine Patrol

2018 is behind us but there is no shortage of issues facing the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Marine Patrol Bureau for 2019. Likely

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

the two largest looming over the lobster industry are the significant herring quota reduction and the additional impacts on fishing that will be discussed in support of right whale preservation, not to mention the potential impacts of offshore wind power, increased aquaculture and the continued threat of warming waters. Folks far more well-versed in these areas than I will have their work cut out for them in 2019 and beyond.
Of course, DMR enforcement will have a seat at the table for all of these issues since they impact the Marine Patrol Bureau. In the Bureau we are constantly challenged by new regulations that often require Patrol to reach further offshore to enforce zone lines, trawl limits and whale-compliant gear. We continue to see a need for larger vessels and advanced technologies to meet the needs of the modern era. Who would have thought 30 years ago that Marine Patrol Officers would be doing virtually all their administrative work on a computer, that they would have access to computers and iPhones 24/7, that they would be actively tracking vessels offshore, and that we would be talking about new and emerging technology, such as the use of aerial drones, nearly daily. Hey, and what about ropeless gear?
I, for one, long for the simpler days when my supervisor said to me, “If you work your docks, board some boats and work your complaints, things will be fine.” Nevertheless, I am not a naysayer. I have a great deal of faith in our workforce and see that the young officers today have little or no difficulties with technology.
Our new 26’ General Marine vessel is now in Stonington for the use by the two officers stationed there. This vessel will allow the officers to work an extended season in a comfortable and safe environment and to conduct additional gear inspections. Our new 31’ Brunswick Impact is now in South Portland to be utilized by the two officers and specialist who patrol that area. This boat will be used primarily as a mid-range boarding platform, allowing officers to respond to complaints in a safe and expedient manner.
Last week the 38’ P/V Dirigo was transported to South Portland where it will be permanently ported as a Section One asset replacing the P/V Challenge II. This vessel, built in 2014, will cover the Yarmouth to New Hampshire border. That region had gone without a boat for six months so we are very happy to have it on station with a new boat captain to operate it. Its replacement on Mount Desert Island will be a Super 46’ WESMAC being finished off in Surry. This newest addition to our fleet should be in the water sometime this month. The vessel will no doubt be the queen of the fleet and will be used for extended trips into offshore waters as well as inshore.
Officers in the mid-coast region have recorded some solid cases over the past couple of months. There have been two trap molesting cases out of the Harpswell and Georgetown areas as well as a large untagged trap case out of the same area. All three fishermen are facing potential license suspensions. Officers in other areas are busy with the recent opening of scallop season.
Some fishermen seem to have a different view of what trap molesting is or see it differently depending on the seriousness of the event. The charge of trap molesting is and always has been one of our most serious. Through a legislative change, the violation now carries a minimum of a two-year suspension. What that means is that the Commissioner is locked into a minimum two-year suspension once a fisherman has been found at fault through the administrative license suspension process. There is no leeway. The Commissioner actually has the right to increase that suspension based on several criteria, such as prior history, the magnitude of the case and the results of a length-of-suspension hearing.
What fishermen need to remember is that trap molesting is broad in its meaning. It includes possessing another’s trap, intentionally damaging another’s trap, opening and/or removing lobsters from another’s trap, cutting the endlines attached to traps, etc. The charge is the same whether you cut off 50 traps or just possess one not belonging to you. The penalties are severe for a reason and were supported by industry. One moment of poor discretion can lead to a world of hurt.
As we progress into the winter months, please take extra precautions to be safe. Over the past month at least two commercial lobster boats have sunk, with everyone coming out of it OK. We know the results are not always that favorable. Be safe.