Written by Adrianne Madden
April 2, 2009
I think my dictionary is broken. Its definition of the word "harass" seems different from that of federal officials.
According to my well-worn copy of Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition, the definition of the verb "harass" reads as follows:
"1 a: EXHAUST, FATIGUE b: to annoy persistently 2: to worry and impede by repeated raids"
But apparently the word has an additional meaning because a Cape Cod fisherman who last summer freed a humpback whale that was caught up in his fishing gear faces charges of harassing whales.
Robert J. Eldridge of West Chatham, Mass., faces a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine, a year in jail and a year on probation if he's convicted of the criminal misdemeanor. Yesterday he pleaded innocent on three charges of violations of the federal Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Hyannis, Mass.-based Cape Cod Times reports http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090402/NEWS/904020314/-1/NEWS06 that Eldridge and his crew worked for 20 to 30 minutes to free the whale, which reportedly swam away unharmed. Eldridge later cooperated with a NOAA investigator, describing how the incident unfolded. The U.S. Attorneys office subsequently determined charges should be brought.
Perhaps, in this litigious age, federal officials are acting cautiously and to the letter of the law, especially where a protected species is concerned. Hence, a fisherman who tried to do the right thing faces a big fine and jail time for his trouble.
It'll be interesting to see how the case plays out in court. We'll keep the folks at Merriam Webster posted.
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