ELLSWORTH, Maine — An Orland lobsterman who had his license suspended earlier this year for multiple fishing violations has pleaded guilty to fishing-related crimes in Hancock County, according to state officials.
Theodore Gray, 34, pleaded guilty last week in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court to possession of undersized and v-notched lobsters and to molesting lobster gear. As a result, he has been ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and to serve two days in jail.
Gray was arrested May 9 after officers with the Maine Marine Patrol 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 belonged to another licensed lobsterman, according to Jeff Nichols, spokesman for Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Gray’s lobster fishing license was suspended this past June by Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. State law allows the commissioner to suspend someone’s license before their case is adjudicated in order to prevent tensions from boiling over within the fishing community.
“This was one of the most extreme cases involving violation of our state’s marine resources laws anyone in the department or the Marine Patrol can remember,” Keliher said Thursday in a prepared statement. “Not only is he now facing major fines and jail time, through his actions, he has lost the privilege of earning a living harvesting Maine lobsters for three years.”
Maine law requires fishermen to immediately release back into the ocean lobsters measuring less than 3 ¼ inches. State law also mandates that fishermen who catch female lobsters with eggs must use a v-notch tool or a sharp knife to remove a quarter-inch-deep portion from the flipper to the right of the center one, and then immediately return it to the water. These are conservation measures aimed at protecting the resource to make sure the lobster fishery remains healthy.
Possession of undersized lobsters and v-notched lobsters are considered Class D crimes in Maine, Department of Marine Resources officials have said. Molesting lobster gear, which includes possession of another fisherman’s gear, is a civil violation.
Gray was facing up to a year in jail and fines totaling about $100,000 for the illegal possession violations, according to the Department of Marine Resources.
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 were caught by Maine fishermen.
“This case sends a strong message that the state of Maine will use all the tools at its disposal to find and remove lawbreakers from the water and to support the work of law abiding fishermen who work to sustain our vital marine resources,” Keliher said in the release.