CUSHING, Maine — A local lobsterman was charged Tuesday with two counts of trap molestation and his boat was seized after stepped-up surveillance efforts by the Maine Marine Patrol.
Two Marine Patrol officers and one warden said they witnessed Heath Yeaton, 31, of Cushing, cut 22 lobster buoys Tuesday afternoon in two different spots off Cushing and Friendship. The incident is not related to last week’s lobster boat sinkings in Owls Head, according to Major John Fetterman of the Maine Marine Patrol.
Fetterman said that the agency has been intensely concentrating on midcoast Maine surveillance in the wake of increased reports of trap cuttings, the recent shooting on Matinicus Island and the sinking of two lobster boats in Owls Head a week ago. Many in the industry and the Marine Patrol said that this summer’s string of violent events, which some tie to lobster territory disputes, is the worst in recent memory.
“We are taking this very, very seriously,” Fetterman said. “We’re putting people on notice.”
No arrests have been made in the Owls Head boat vandalism case, Deputy Tim Carroll of the Knox County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday.
Trap molestation is a civil violation, and convictions carry a mandatory three-year loss of lobster and crab fishing licenses — and the loss of the ability to assist any lobster license holder as a crew member, Fetterman said.
Yeaton fishes with his father, Bradley Yeaton, but was alone at the time of the alleged trap cutting, Fetterman said. All of the cut buoys belonged to lobsterman Gary Jones of Cushing, who said Wednesday that he’s lost close to $10,000 to trap and gear vandalism over the last three years.
“Right now, I’m feeling good,” Jones said. “I’ll feel better when he’s convicted.”
Jones said that he attributes the vandalism to “jealousy,” and that he figured he lost $2,200 Wednesday to lost lobster traps — but despite his losses, he’s not going anywhere.
“I’ve been fishing over 35 years in Cushing,” Jones said. “I’m not going to get driven out.”
After officials watched Yeaton allegedly cut the traplines, they were “straightforward” about confronting him and seizing his tender, Fetterman said. While civil cases such as this don’t typically go to trial, trap-cutting charges are usually “fought to the bitter end because of the potential loss of license that is so devastating to someone,” he said.
Fetterman said that it is very unusual to catch someone in the act of cutting traps — and that he expects the increased surveillance efforts in multiple locations will lead to more results.
“I’m behind every rock and tree,” Fetterman said, only partly facetiously. “We have sea gulls with Web cams.”
He said that it is his understanding that the common thread in all the lobster-related crime along the midcoast is whether people should be allowed to fish in a particular area. Lobster licenses, however, specify only the right to fish in one of seven statewide fisheries management zones. Disputes over fishing grounds like Owls Head or Cushing have more to do with locally enforced boundaries “that have gone back generations,” Fetterman said.
Divers were busy Wednesday afternoon recovering more of Jones’ cut traps, he said.
While the lobsterman said that he thinks that authorities did an “excellent job” catching someone in the act of trap cutting, the state has a lot of coastline and not very many Marine Patrol officers.
“You can’t get any better,” he said of the Marine Patrol. “But it’s not like it used to be. We used to take care of our problems ourselves. Not anymore.”