Maine fisheries chief moves to suspend license of accused lobsterman

Posted June 03, 2014, at 4 p.m.

STONINGTON, Maine — The head of the Maine Department of Marine Resources plans to suspend the license of an Orland lobsterman who is accused of keeping illegal lobsters and of molesting another fisherman’s gear, according to state officials.

Theodore Gray, 34, was charged May 9 after Marine Patrol officers found him in possession of 269 lobsters shorter than the minimum size limit, 123 breeding female lobsters that had been marked with a V-shaped notch on their tails, and 20 traps that belong to another licensed lobsterman, DMR officials have said. Gray fishes out of Stonington.

The commissioner of DMR has the authority to suspend a person’s fishing license for up to three years before there is a resolution of civil or criminal charges that person is facing in court, DMR officials indicated Tuesday in a prepared statement.

In the statement, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said Gray’s case is one of “the most appalling violations of Maine’s lobster laws in decades” and that he has made it a top priority to bring it to resolution.

“The ability to administratively suspend [someone’s license] is a critically important mechanism for removing an offender from the fishery quickly and to eliminate the potential for tensions with other harvesters to escalate,” said Keliher said in the statement. “In a situation like this, with an individual who has been charged with such egregious violations, there is a very real potential for problems within a community should he remain in the fishery.”

Acting swiftly with sufficient punishment, Keliher added, is necessary to safeguard the resource and to protect the livelihood of the vast majority of lobstermen who comply with the state’s conservation laws.

Maine’s commercial lobster fishery is the biggest lobster fishery in the country and by far the most valuable commercial fishery in Maine. In 2013, nearly 126 million pounds of lobster with a record total dockside value of $364 million was caught by Maine fishermen.

Possession of undersized lobsters and V-notched lobsters are considered Class D crimes in Maine, which are punishable by up to a year in jail, according to Jeff Nichols, spokesman for DMR. Potential financial penalties include $500 for each violation and $100 for each lobster involved up to and including the first five, plus an additional $200 for each lobster in excess of five lobsters. Molesting lobster gear is a civil violation with a potential fine of between $100 and $500.

In addition to jail time, Gray faces the possibility of having to pay more than $100,000 in fines. The potential total amount in fines Gray could be required to pay for allegedly possessing undersized lobsters is $53,800. For the alleged V-notch offenses, he faces another possible $48,200 in fines.

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