Community behind him, Liberty owner vows to carry on
Port Clyde — Whoever has been sinking Tony Hooper’s lobster boat is still out there.
They have brazenly sunk his vessel, Liberty, three times since Aug. 17, with no apparent fear of getting caught. The first time, they sent the boat 30 feet underwater. Hooper hauled it out of the water, did the necessary repairs, and got back to work. Six weeks later, they cut the boat’s hoses and bilge wires and set it adrift, to be found beached on Raspberry Island. And just days after that, they did the same thing again, leaving the Liberty to wash up, after having been submerged, on another nearby island.
Each time, Hooper, 37, of Port Clyde, has wasted little time repairing the boat and readying it for the work that supports his three young children and their mother.
“This person ain’t going to get the best of me,” he said Oct. 10 during a pause in repairs at Knight Marine Service in Rockland. His 11-year-old son was with him, running off with a stack of quarters to buy candy from a vending machine near the ferry terminal. As he ran back with the sweets, he handed one to his father, who pressed it between his teeth.
Hooper, who grew up in Martinsville, said he has been lobster fishing since he was 15. He isn’t new to the area or to fishing in the surrounding waters. When asked if he was rethinking his choice of career, he immediately shook his head. He showed no inclination to abandon lobstering or St. George, which, despite recent events, he called a great place to live.
Along with his refusal to quit, Hooper has benefited from the generosity of a community that has sprung into action since the third sinking of the Liberty. He has received gift cards and donations from family, the local church, friends and neighbors. At least two GoFundMe pages have appeared in the wake of the incidents, one of which has raised $2,000 to support Hooper’s family.
“I’ve been really lucky this time,” Hooper said of the community support. “We’ll get by with what has been raised. We won’t starve.” He said he intends to haul the rest of this season and hopes to have his boat back in the water next week. During the winter, he said, he can work at Mainely Boats, his brother’s boat building business in Cushing.
“I’ve always worked for everything I’ve had,” he said. “I’ve never been one to ask for help.” Of the charity, he said, “It makes me feel good. But it makes me feel weird.” Having started as a teenage sternman and worked up to his own vessel, he acknowledged that taking handouts can feel uncomfortable. But, above all, Hooper said, he appreciates how people have stepped forward to help him through a rough period.
No one has yet been charged for any of the Liberty sinkings. On Oct. 4, the Maine Marine Patrol said in a press release that it was continuing to investigate the incidents and announced that the anti-poaching nonprofit Operation Game Thief had offered a $2,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the sinkings.
Anyone with information is encouraged to call Operation Game Thief at 800-253-7887 (1-800-ALERT-US); out-of-state callers can dial 207-287-6057. Information can also be provided through the organization's Tip Reporting Form at maineogt.org/report.php.
Alternatively, information can be provided to the Marine Patrol with contact details found at maine.gov/dmr/marine-patrol/marine-contact.html or by calling the State Police at 800-452-4664.
Reporter Dan Otis Smith can be reached at 594-4401 x123 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.