State to halt lobster fishing at Matinicus

Posted July 22, 2009, at 10:45 a.m.

MATINICUS, Maine – The state has ordered the shutdown of lobster fishing around Matinicus Island in response to Monday’s shooting of a lobsterman in a fishing dispute.

State Marine Resources Commissioner George LaPointe ordered the shutdown to begin a half-hour before sunrise on Thursday, and it will run for a minimum of two weeks.

“Because of the trap-cutting and the violence that has gone on there, we’re shutting it down,” Marine Patrol Col. Joseph Fessenden said Tuesday. “They can pull their traps tomorrow, but after that they’re shut down.”

Fessenden said LaPointe has rule-making authority to close fishing areas in instances of violence or when gear conflict is involved. He said Monday’s shooting was apparently prompted by the cutting of 200 traps over the weekend and an assault earlier that day.

Vance Bunker, 68, of Matinicus has been charged with elevated aggravated assault after the shooting in the neck of Chris Young, 41, also of Matinicus during an argument. The shooting occurred on a dock on the island.

Because of the heightened tension of recent weeks, the Marine Patrol and Knox County Sheriff’s Department personnel were on the island at the time of the shooting, and Bunker was arrested immediately afterward. A .22-caliber handgun was seized from Bunker after the shooting.

On Tuesday, Young was in stable condition at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston after surgery on his wound.

Bunker was released on $125,000 surety bail Tuesday.

Fessenden said the Marine Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard, Knox County Sheriff’s Department and Maine State Police would provide 24-hour coverage on the island until the situation is resolved.

He said the department does not have the staff to police the island full time and that it was hoped that suspending lobster fishing would convince people to resolve their differences without violence or destruction of property. The island is about 20 miles southeast of Rockland.

“It’s a remote area out there, out of Penobscot Bay, and we just can’t be there all the time,” Fessenden said.

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