ROCKLAND — The Maine Marine Patrol said Monday it landed its biggest catch ever when it seized 1,178 lobster traps worth nearly $90,000 from the owner of fishing vessel Cool Breeze.
The patrol said 18 officers and five boats from Jonesboro to Portland were used to haul in traps being fished by Alan Marriner of Owls Head, said Sgt. Alan Talbot of the patrol.
Anonymous tips had led to 2 1/2 weeks of surveillance preceding the seizure. “It was a huge operation. … It is unprecedented,” Talbot said.
The trap limit in the zone the vessel was fishing is 1,000, having decreased in May from 1,200. The zone comprises waters near Vinalhaven to Pemaquid, Talbot said.
The officers worked from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, then worked most of Monday removing the traps from a barge at Prock Marine. The traps were taken in trailer loads of 135 at a time to the Marine Patrol’s watercraft office near Mid-Coast School of Technology. Lobsters from the traps were tossed back into the ocean.
Talbot said boat owner Alan Marriner of Owls Head and his sternman, Donald Rahkonen of Rockland, were summoned for exceeding the boat trap limit.
“We are taking this seriously,” Talbot said. “We are looking at it around the state. The [legal] ones out there don’t like others trying to circumvent the law.”
The value of the traps seized was estimated at $88,350, based on one new rigged trap costing $75. All of the confiscated traps were new, Talbot said.
The lobstermen could lose their licenses and also face a potential fine of up to $100 per trap over the limit, which calculates to as much as $17,800. The fishermen also lose the catch from those traps each day they are being held by the Marine Patrol.
Marriner and Rahkonen did not return calls seeking comment.
The law says that no more than the individual trap limit may be fished from a boat regardless of how many people from one boat have licenses. Next year that limit drops to 800 traps.
Some lobstermen say the trap limits undercut their ability to make a living. Lobstermen at the upper limit are frustrated because others with smaller operations are still allowed to add 100 traps a year until they reach the maximum.
Of the 1,178 traps confiscated, 907 were owned by Marriner and 271 were owned by Rahkonen, according to Officer James Princiotta.
The men could have fished their traps legally had they done so from separate boats, Talbot said.
Marriner and Rahkonen are scheduled to appear in Rockland District Court on Sept. 7.
Maine’s lobster is designated as overfished even though landings have been abundant in recent years.
Preliminary figures from the National Marine Fisheries Service show Maine lobstermen caught 45.5 million pounds of lobster worth about $132 million in 1998. That compares to the 1997 record catch of 47 million pounds worth $138 million.
Regulators say the problem is that lobsters are being caught as soon as they reach a legal size and that there are not enough lobsters reproducing to sustain the fishery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.