Maine lobster turf war renewed with civil lawsuit

Maine lobstermen have a couple of traditions that periodically are in the news.

One is great sport and has attracted a lot of onlookers over the past few decades. That’s lobster boat racing. The other is not fun — boats are destroyed, people get hurt and might end up in prison. Those are turf wars, when lobstermen from nearby ports get crosswise with one another over territorial and personal disputes. The disputes can drag on.

When Joshua Hupper a lawsuit earlier this month in the Knox County Court against fellow Tenants Harbor lobsterman Alan Norwood. Both are Tenants Harbor lobsterman, but not on good terms for some time — if ever.

Back on Sept. 1, 2016, Hupper rowed out to his 36-foot lobsterboat, the Oracle, and found her three-quarters underwater. Vincent Hilt, a deck hand for Norwood, and Devlin Meklin were the ones that sunk the boat by opening her seacocks and shutting off the bilge pumps. In the process they stole a skiff to get out to the Oracle. The estimated damage was $50,000.

The reason for the sinking: Hupper was suspected of hauling Norwood’s lobster traps and setting gear on top of Norwood’s gear. In a certain kind of perverted harbor justice this was retribution.

Hilt and Meklin were charged with felony criminal mischief and felony theft. Initially Hilt said Norwood had hired him to do the job for $500. As a result, Norwood was also arrested and charged with aggravated criminal mischief. Then Hilt took back that statement, saying it was all his idea. (The prosecution would claim that Hilt recanted because he did not want to be known as a snitch in prison.)

In March 2017, while Hilt was given two years in prison and has to pay $16,267 in restitution, and Meklin was sentenced to two years with all but three months suspended and also must pay $16,267. The jury acquitted Norwood of all charges.

Almost 18 months later, Hupper has reopened the issue with his lawsuit, though instead of being a criminal case, this is a civil proceeding where the standard of proof is not as great. The lawsuit alleges the Norwood did direct Hilt and Meklin to sink the Oracle, and while no dollar amount has been mentioned the damage to the boat is now estimated at $170,000.

My suspicion is that Tenants Harbor is probably a pretty tense place at the moment and you best be very careful about who your friends are.

About the author

Michael Crowley

Michael Crowley is the former Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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