Bill proposes secret spying devices on lobster boats
Augusta — A bill before the Legislature would allow the state to secretly place electronic surveillance devices on lobster boats to find out if the crew are violating any laws or rules.
The bill -- LD 1379 -- is sponsored by state Rep. Walter Kumiega, III, D-Deer Isle.
"Cheaters in the fishing industry are like a cancer. If they aren't shut down, the bad behavior just spreads. People fishing extra traps are stealing from all the law-abiding fishermen, and that is a big threat to the future of the industry," Kumiega said.
The bill would require lobstermen to consent to electronic surveillance as a condition of receiving their lobster licenses. Kumiega said this is similar to the existing law that makes consent to boarding and inspection by the Marine Patrol a condition of receiving a license.
The Hancock County representative said he believes that judicial review would also be possible after the fact.
"If a judge felt that probable cause didn't warrant the surveillance they could toss the evidence out," he said.
The proposed law would allow officers to covertly place surveillance devices on boats if probable cause is presented to the commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources from the Chief of the Bureau of Marine Patrol. If the commissioner determines the use of covert electronic surveillance is warranted, the commissioner may authorize its use.
A public hearing before the Legislature's Marine Resources Committee is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, April 24.
There were no immediate responses to telephone messages sent to the Maine Lobstermen's Association and its president David Cousens of South Thomaston.
Comments on the Facebook group, "All Things Lobstering" shows mixed reactions to the bill.
Jonesport lobsterman Patrick Beal said that a warrant from a court should be needed before the state can go on your boat to place a device. He said the warrant could be sealed so the suspect would not be alerted.
John Drouin of Cutler posted on the Facebook page that he had no problem with it.
"Why the worry? Play by the rules and no one should have an issue. Far too many fishing more that 800...hauling other people's gear and cutting others off," he stated.