June 21, 2018
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Accused lobsterman ordered off Matinicus

By Walter Griffin

ROCKLAND, Maine — Vance Bunker, who is accused of shooting a fellow lobsterman on Matinicus on Monday, has been ordered off the island.

The order not to set foot on Matinicus was just one of the conditions placed on Bunker, 68, when he was released on $125,000 surety bail in 6th District Court on Tuesday.

He also was ordered to have no direct or indirect contact with shooting victim Chris Young, along with island residents Weston Ames and Ronnie Ames, among other conditions.

Bunker has been charged with elevated aggravated assault.

Bunker, of Matinicus, was arrested on the island Monday afternoon after he allegedly shot Chris Young, 41, in the neck during a confrontation on a dock. The two men were arguing over lobster fishing, according to police.

A .22-caliber handgun was seized from Bunker when he was arrested.

Young, also of Matinicus, was shot in the neck during the altercation between the two men Monday morning. He was taken by Penobscot Island Air to Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head where he was met by a LifeFlight helicopter and taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where he had surgery later that day. He was in stable condition Tuesday, according to Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.

Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison said the two men had been feuding over lobster territory and that a department detective and the Maine Marine Patrol were already on the island that day as a result of the dispute.

Marine Patrol Officer Wes Dean was checking out Young’s lobster boat when the shooting occurred, and Detective Don Murray and Marine Patrol Officer Matt Talbot, who were in a boat patrolling Matinicus Harbor, went to the scene within minutes.

Dean placed Bunker under arrest after the shooting. A .22-caliber handgun was seized from Bunker. Young was not armed, McCausland said.

“There was a beef between the two of them and obviously it escalated into gunfire on the dock,” McCausland said Tuesday. “They were arguing about whatever lobstermen argue about — territory, I assume.”

Marine Patrol Col. Joseph Fessenden said Monday’s shooting apparently was prompted by the cutting of 200 traps over the weekend and an assault earlier that day. He declined to say whose traps were cut or reveal the details of the assault, which is still under investigation. He said the assault was separate from the shooting.

Other sheriff’s deputies and state police detectives arrived on the island to gather evidence in connection with the investigation.

Sheriff Dennison said Dean’s actions saved lives and defused a situation that could have resulted in more people being seriously injured or even killed. Officers from all three agencies remained on the island throughout the night in the event that additional problems evolved from the shooting incident.

“I think the whole lobster industry is in trouble, with prices so low and the economy so bad,” Dennison said. “It just added to the tension out there.”

Knox County Chief Deputy Ernie McIntosh said there are differing factions on the island and that the Sheriff’s Department, Marine Patrol, Maine State Police and U.S. Coast Guard will maintain 24-hour coverage on the island until things calm down.

Tensions often flare among Maine’s lobster fishermen over who has the right to place traps in specified areas. The origins of the industry’s unofficial territorial system go back to about 1890, said University of Maine professor James Acheson, a social anthropologist who has written two books on the subject.

Mostly, those territorial rights stay within fishing families or among longtimers in the same harbors.

When fishermen feel their turf is being encroached upon, they send signals to the offending lobsterman by leaving a note in a bottle in the trap, by tying a knot in the buoy rope or by cutting out the door to the trap so lobsters can escape. Sometimes they resort to cutting trap lines — resulting in lost traps, which can cost $80 to $100 each.

Occasionally, lobstermen fire warning shots, and Acheson remembers a lobsterman once firing bullets through another boat’s windshield on Penobscot Bay.

On Matinicus a few years ago, two fishermen were charged after one of them fired a shotgun at the other.

For the most part, Maine fishermen respect their established territories, Acheson said.

Matinicus Island is situated about 20 miles southeast of Rockland and has long been a productive fishing ground for lobsters. The island, with just a few dozen year-round residents, has a reputation for lawlessness, according to Acheson, and as a place where local people take matters into their own hands.

Bunker’s bail conditions, in addition to restricting him from returning to Matinicus and avoiding contact with the three men, prohibit him from possessing dangerous weapons or using alcohol or drugs, and require him to submit to searches and alcohol and drug testing when requested by law enforcement.

Bunker has retained Waldoboro lawyer Philip Cohen for his defense. Bunker and his wife, Sari, put up property they own in Owls Head as surety for his bail. No date has been set for his initial court appearance.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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