ROCKLAND, Maine — A Knox County jury took little time Friday to find that a 44-year-old Hancock man had been caught elver fishing during a closed period.
And because of the conviction, Gary Hallett will lose his right to harvest the valuable seafood for the upcoming season.
Last month, Hallett’s attorney Nicholas Walsh of Portland had asked Justice Jeffrey Hjelm to postpone the trial until next summer so that his client could get one more elver fishing season in and possibly earn $200,000. Hjelm rejected that request.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour Friday before convicting Hallett of elver harvesting during a closed season.
Hjelm fined Hallett $750 for that offense and $150 for a related civil elver fishing violation that the jury had also found Hallett guilty of committing.
The trial was a brief one, with only one witness being called — Maine Marine Patrol Specialist Matthew Talbot. Talbot testified that he was patrolling harbors in the midcoast late on the evening of April 7 when he spotted two people near the falls in Camden Harbor. He said he saw a man, later identified as Hallett, shining a flashlight into the water.
Talbot then moved to a second-floor window of a building overlooking the harbor and saw the man walk out onto rocks and dip a large net into the water for several minutes. The man, and a woman with him, then ran to a sports utility vehicle and drove away. Talbot radioed for assistance and a Camden police officer stopped the vehicle heading north on Route 1.
The marine patrol officer said when he arrived at the vehicle, Hallett initially said that he was just hanging out by the harbor. But Hallett then admitted he had been fishing after the officer found a 5-gallon bucket containing about one-half to three-quarters of a pound of elvers, Talbot said.
The Marine Patrol officer said the price of elvers — baby eels — ranged from $1,200 to $2,400 per pound. This means the bucket contained as much $1,600 worth of elvers.
The officer said Hallett told him he “couldn’t help himself.”
Talbot said after the trial that state law mandates the loss of a license for a year for someone convicted of elver fishing during a closed season. The license suspension would be issued administratively by the Department of Marine Resources.
The defense presented no witnesses in the trial held in Knox County Superior Court. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald prosecuted the case. Fernald noted the law restricting elver fishing is important as a conservation measure.
“These laws are necessary because the fish could be nonexistent,” Fernald said to the jury.
Next year’s elver season is scheduled to run from March 22 through May 31.
The value of the 2012 elver harvest in Maine was expected to exceed $40 million, five times that of the previous year.