The Maine Department of Marine Resources is in the process of drafting legislation that would give Marine Patrol officers more authority to track lobstermen suspected of violating state regulations, allowing them to install electronic surveillance devices without notice.
Maine law already allows officers to obtain a warrant from a court to covertly install surveillance devices — such as GPS, audio or video equipment — on vessels when officers have probable cause to believe the operator is engaged in criminal violations. But in cases involving suspected civil violations, officers must provide at least 24 hours’ notice to fishermen before installing the devices.
Illegal practices that are classified as civil violations include fishing more than the 800-trap limit, using fishing gear without name tags, and disturbing or molesting the gear of other fishermen.
During the summer and fall of 2016, turf wars between lobstermen near Deer Isle and Mount Desert Island were worse than Marine Patrol officials had ever seen. An estimated 12 lobstermen were involved in disputes in which more than $350,000 in gear was either lost or damaged.
The language of the bill has not been released, and DMR officials declined to provide specifics until the legislation has been finalized. DMR officials say the bill will aim to ease restrictions on Marine Patrol officers when they want to install electronic tracking or surveillance equipment on boats as part of investigations.
It is unclear yet as to whether or not the new legislation would require a warrant to install equipment, something the industry to watching closely. A proposal for “warrantless” installation of surveillance equipment ran into strong opposition from some in the lobster industry in 2015.
A new legislative session begins this week where more details about the bill will likely be revealed.