It reads like a practical joke: Weed of Stonington faces pot charges. (Traps, that is.)

But behind the amusing headline lies one of the pitfalls of a fiercely independent fleet of fishermen: they do what they want.

Lobster boats tied up in Maine’s Stonington harbor. Photo by Dana Moos Benjamin Weed of Stonington, Maine, is being charged with fishing untagged lobster traps and for setting more than he was allotted in certain fishing zones. But there’s more to this story than the government coming down hard on another hard-working fisherman (a rather disturbing trend, but that’s a topic for another day).

The Maine lobster fleet has for years been enjoying flush landings and more recently a price jump that led to record landings value last year just shy of $457 million, and 2015 is looking up from there with a late start to coincide with the tourist season.

At the same time, the number of V-notched egg-bearing lobsters (reproducing females marked so they can consistently be thrown back whether or not they are bearing eggs at the time they are caught) is on the decline from 76 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2014, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The last time the landings increased significantly, the percentage of V-notched egg-bearers held steady between 70 and 80 percent. So the decline is worrisome. And to some, it’s suspicious. Are more Maine lobstermen slacking off on V-notching because they think the fishery is invulnerable and no longer requires strict adherence to that rule, or is some other factor at play?

Of course, lobstermen have a reputation for being suspicious of each other, even — and maybe especially — of their own neighbors. Despite their fierce independence, most of Maine's lobstermen work hard to maintain a sustainable fishery and want to know that their neighbors are doing the same. If there's a chance they're not, they are sure to be the subject of some scuttlebutt. Before the story broke, the rumor had it that Weed was fishing thousands of unmarked traps.

Rumors aside, he’s likely to be held up as an example to the rest of the fleet. Weed risks losing his fishing license for a year, which is a steep price to pay when the gettin’ is just gettin’ good.

Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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