Lobster Wars

Growing up in Maine its often talked about how lobstermen are NOT to be messed with. I remember at an early age finding a lobster buoy on the beach, and my mother telling me not to play with it. You see the Buoys are color coated and serialized for the individual lobsterman and Mom didn’t want the rightful owner of the buoy to see me with it and get any ideas that I came across it less than honestly. Same goes for when a bad storm blows through, sometimes lobster traps will get dragged up by the surge and found on the beach. I was always told not to touch them, as a lobsterman might not take kindly to a kid messing with his livelihood.

There are always tales of trap wars, most often it involves warnings, where traps set in the “Wrong Place” (ie waters fished for generations by single families, who suddenly find strange traps set in “their spot”) The traps will first be hauled and a fat knot tied halfway down the line. The owner will pull the traps and find a snarl that could only have been placed on his gear by human hands. I’ve heard if the traps persist they can get cut off, forcing him to abandon his traps or tow for them with a grappling hook.

You hear reports of violence, but I honestly had never read about them until now.

The sinking of two lobster boats is rekindling memories of hostilities among U.S. lobstermen two years ago that led to a near-fatal shooting, boats being sunk and a barrage of lobster trap vandalism along Maine’s lobster-rich coast….This week’s boat sinkings are bringing back memories of 2010, when hostilities especially were in high gear.

On remote Matinicus Island, 20 miles offshore, a lobsterman fired a handgun at two fellow lobstermen, hitting one in the neck in a near-fatal dispute over lobster traps. A jury later found Vance Bunker not guilty of elevated aggravated assault.

Two weeks after the shooting, someone sank two lobster boats and damaged a third in Owls Head, another midcoast fishing harbor. Throughout the summer, police investigated a rash of complaints about lobster trap lines being cut, resulting in lost lobster gear.

These guys do NOT mess around. On one hand its shamefully savage and brutal…on the other hand Maine has a burgeoning lobster fishery that allows people with little education and few skills besides being able to work long hard hours to make money many highly skilled professionals pull in. And while more bugs get pulled out of Maine waters every year, the fact that the fishery is essentially self-regulating (people fishing illegally are well known for receiving threats and attacks, long before the Marine Patrol gets word of it) shows all signs of being quite sustainable.

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