Maine lobstermen generally get along with each other, but the fishery does have a long history of lobstermen getting cross-wise with one another over territorial and personal disputes. Instead of a fish and let fish arrangement, there’s suddenly a grudge.
It can be more than a simple difference between two guys — like in the 1930s and 1940s in the Penobscot Bay region where traps were destroyed, fishing docks burned and some lobstermen shot.
These days there’s nothing of that magnitude. It’s generally between a couple of lobstermen and one of them might be totally oblivious to it, until he finds his trap lines cut or he rows out to his lobster boat and it’s underwater.
That was what Joshua Hupper found this past Sept. 1 when he went out in his skiff to where the 36-foot Oracle was moored in Tenants Harbor and found her three-quarters underwater. Damages to the boat were expected to exceed $50,000.
Take Hupper’s experience times three and you have a real case of lobsterman’s hate. That’s what Tony Hooper and his 35-foot Liberty was subjected to. The Liberty was sunk not once but three times in seven weeks.
The first sinking was Aug. 17, 2016, in Port Clyde, after the sea hoses were cut to let in water and the bilges pumps were ripped out. The last of the three incidents was on Sept. 30 with the Liberty found washed up on a nearby island with all the hoses and all the wiring cut.
It can be hard to find the culprit in lobstermen’s turf wars. It’s a little like inner city violence involving gangs where no one wants to fess up to the cops because they might be next on the list. Fishing communities are also reluctant to bring unwanted attention to local feuds.
As one Friendship resident said after someone had fired a shot from a high-powered rifle into a lobster boat in 2012: “Nobody saw anything and Friendship is a pretty tightlipped community.”
Some do end up paying for their deeds. Jeremy Eaton of Stonington pleaded guilty in federal court to setting fire to the 35-foot Heritage on April 16, 2014. In Sept. 2016 he got a seven-year prison term.
And Hupper’s boat? Well the guys that sunk her are going to prison. Vincent Hilt a sternman on a local lobster boat was sentenced on March 2 to two years for his role in the Oracle’s sinking. Devlin Meklin, who assisted him, was given a three-month sentence in January. Still to go before a judge is Hilt’s captain, Alan Norwood, who allegedly paid Hilt and Meklin $500 to sink Hupper’s boat. Why? According to a March 8 article in the Bangor Daily News, Hilt and Norwood “thought Hupper was hauling their gear.”