The Maine Marine Patrol is now offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of those involved in the sinking of a lobster boat in Port Clyde.
The Liberty, which belongs to lobsterman Tony Hooper, has been intentionally sunk three times in the past six weeks. He says he has no idea who is trying to put him out of business by repeatedly sinking his boat and admits that they’ve likely achieved their goal for this season.
The boat was initially sunk on Aug. 27 when it hit the bottom of the harbor, causing considerable damage to its engine and electronics.
The vessel was hauled out of the water, repaired and put back into service, only to be sabotaged again on Sept. 28. It was cut loose from its mooring and had its hoses cut. The boat washed ashore and was swamped with water up to the railings.
The engined was serviced and Hooper had the Liberty back on the water later that week.
But the boat was let loose from its mooring, and scuttled again last weekend. This time, the Liberty sank completely.
Hooper has estimated his losses at more than $30,000, and says he does not have insurance.
Col. Jonathan Cornish, head of Maine Marine Patrol, told the Bangor Daily News in mid-September that complaints of trap molestation and territorial disputes typically rise during the peak harvesting months of September and October, when lobstermen shift their traps to take advantage of productive grounds or to move farther out from shore to coincide with the migration of the lobsters as the waters close to shore cool down. Statewide, the average number of complaints has held steady for the past few years, he said. There were 30 registered complaints as of Sept. 12.
Maine Marine Patrol Sgt. Matthew Talbot said Monday he has never seen one boat targeted so many times.
Hooper says he has no known disputes with anyone in the area. “I’ve done nothing,” Hooper said when asked by WCSH6 News if he had done something to another fisherman that might have prompted retribution. “I get up in the morning, go out to haul my traps and go home. I don’t mess with nobody.”
The Marine Patrol is asking anyone with information to call them or the Knox County Sheriff’s office. The cash reward for information is being made available through Operation Game Thief, a private, nonprofit organization that regularly helps pay rewards to citizens who turn in poachers.
“This is a senseless act that has happened to one of our own,” said Operation Game Thief Chairman Greg Sirpis in a statement. “The commercial lobstering community has a deep rooted tradition in Maine, and this will simply not stand. The Maine OGT Board of Directors is hopeful that someone will come forward and furnish information that will assist the Maine Marine Patrol in their investigation.”
“We’re grateful for the tremendous support of the Operation Game Thief program,” said Marine Patrol Maj. Rene Cloutier. “While their focus is traditionally on poaching violations, their partnership with the Marine Patrol will help us pursue serious violations that undermine the ability of hard working fishermen to make a living on the water.”