GREAT DUCK ISLAND, Maine — State game wardens said that on Saturday they busted a group of hunters who killed 87 snowshoe hares on a remote island owned mostly by The Nature Conservancy.

The Maine Warden Service posted information about the bust on its Facebook page.

“Five hunters from Massachusetts and one from Maine were apprehended Saturday, March 18 for killing 67 snowshoe hares over their limit,” the warden service wrote. “Working on a tip, a team of Maine game wardens, Maine marine patrol officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents closed in on the group who had been hunting on Great Duck Island Saturday.”

The group was found to have killed 67 snowshoe hares more than Maine’s daily bag limit allows, which is 20, wardens added.

Andy Mays, 52, of Southwest Harbor was summoned on a charge of exceeding the daily bag limit for snowshoe hares, according to the warden service. The Massachusetts men summoned on the same charge were Abilio Fernandes, 61, of New Bedford; Luis Fidalgo, 52, of North Dartmouth; and Acushnet, residents Antonio Fidalgo, 54; Antonio Borges, 69; and Carlos Almeida, 47. Almeida also was charged with hunting without a license.

Mays, a fisherman from Southwest Harbor, said Monday that he feels responsible for getting the other hunters into trouble. Mays said he has been going out to the largely uninhabited island for years to hunt rabbits, which are not native to the island and — aside from bald eagles — do not have predators such as foxes or coyotes to worry about.

Mays, who in the 1980s used to man the now-automated lighthouse on the island as an enlisted member of the Coast Guard, said that a civilian Coast Guard employee first introduced rabbits to the island in the late 1960s. He said that a few snowshoe hares were used at first but then, after the small group was intentionally supplemented by domesticated rabbits, the population exploded.

“As soon as you step onto the island, there are rabbits running around everywhere,” Mays said. “It’s normal, in that location, to go out there and shoot 40 or 50 rabbits, and it’s been that way forever. It’s more like culling [than hunting].”

Mays said the hunters from Massachusetts are of Portuguese descent and take their rabbit hunting seriously. He has taken some of them out to Great Duck Island in prior years, he said, and on Saturday he encouraged them to shoot a high number of hares, though he knew they were exceeding the bag limit, because of the rabbits’ population density on the island and because he knew the rabbits would not go to waste.

“Every one of those rabbits gets utilized,” Mays said.

The circumstances involving hares on Great Duck Island are “different” than elsewhere in Maine, Mays said. The high number of rabbits could have an impact on seabirds such as storm petrels that have their own seasonal underground burrows on the island, he said, and the state’s position on harvesting invasive species such as green crabs or freshwater bass is often much more lenient than its position on harvesting native species.

Still, Mays added, he admits to having violated the catch limit and will not fight the charge. He said he feels the state game wardens who busted them have treated him fairly.

“We plan to pay our fines and move on,” Mays said. “I’m the one over the years who has led this parade. I feel ultimately responsible for this whole thing.”

Great Duck Island is an uninhabited island located six miles off of Mount Desert Island, or about 10 miles by boat from Southwest Harbor. College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor has a summer research program on Great Duck Island, where students study the island’s seabird colonies and other natural phenomena.

The Maine Warden Service on Monday did not return a voicemail message requesting additional comment on the incident.

Timothy Paul, spokesman for the Nature Conservancy, said the conservation group owns 245 acres or about 90 percent of the island, part of which is privately owned and includes a summer rental cottage. He said the rabbits are not native to Great Duck and are not included in the conservancy’s management plan for the island.

Paul said The Nature Conservancy does allow hunting on its land on Great Duck, provided all state and federal regulations are followed, but added that he did not have enough information to comment about the size of the island’s rabbit population.

He said The Nature Conservancy commends the warden service for enforcing the state’s hunting laws on Great Duck.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....