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Two lobstermen and two crew members have been charged in Hancock County with abusing another fisherman’s gear last fall.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol after the state fisheries enforcement agency received a complaint from a Stockton Springs fisherman that someone was cutting lines to his traps in Penobscot Bay, the agency said Wednesday.
Walter Foster, 56, of Castine, and Nicholas Wood, 22, of Penobscot, and two of Wood’s crew members — Samuel K. Stearns of Penobscot and Nicholas Jennings of Castine — each have been charged with molesting lobster gear, a Class D crime that could result in a $2,000 fine and up to a year in prison, according to the Marine Patrol.
If convicted of the violation, the men would be required to pay the owner of the traps for twice the value of the traps lost. In this case, the Stockton Springs fisherman lost more than 71 traps valued at $3,692, which would result in a total restitution value of $7,384, agency officials said.
In addition to the molesting charge, Wood also is charged with operating a motorboat with imprudent speed and distance, criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy, violation of a condition of release, littering and lobster fishing without a proper license class.
Foster, Stearn and Jennings also each face charges of criminal mischief and littering, while Foster faces an additional charge of criminal conspiracy, according to Marine Patrol.
“These are major violations, and I’m proud of Marine Patrol Officer Rustin Ames for conducting a thorough investigation which took place over months,” Marine Patrol Colonel Jay Carroll said in a news release.
The commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources 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 a license holder person is facing in court, and has notified Wood and Foster that their licenses have been administratively suspended for three years. Wood’s license suspension took effect on March 29, but Foster’s suspension is currently stayed until the completion of a hearing, according to Marine Patrol.
As crew members, Stearns and Jennings have no DMR licenses that can be suspended, but will face consequences if they are convicted in criminal court, department spokesman Jeff Nichols said Wednesday.
Two-and-a-half years ago, a spike in gear molestation complaints in Hancock County led DMR officials to authorize a reward for information that could help the Marine Patrol bring an end to a so-called “trap war” resulting from territorial conflicts between fishermen in zones B and C, which are divided by a boundary that runs through Blue Hill Bay from Newbury Neck in Surry to Swan’s Island.
Castine, Penobscot and Stockton Springs all are within Zone D. Nichols said that the case is not believed to be part of any wider pattern of conflicts in upper Penobscot Bay.