(NaturalNews) A sharp drop in lobster prices has pushed tensions among Maine fishermen to the breaking point, leading to the first recorded shooting from a fishing ground dispute.
Eighty percent of U.S.-fished lobster, almost 70 million pounds, is caught in the waters off the coast of Maine by a mere 6,000 fishermen. Because a successful fisherman can make as much as $100,000 in profit each year, competition for prime fishing territories is fierce. Traditionally, Maine lobster fishing grounds are regulated by an informal system under which individual fishermen stake out a claim to various specific locations. Though these boundaries are usually respected, there is a long tradition of incursion and defense of these grounds.
The recent drop in lobster prices from roughly $4 per pound to approximately $3 per pound has caused an upswing in these incidents. Fishermen have cut the fishing lines of rivals fishing in "their" waters, forcing them to replace the traps at a cost of $70 to $100 each. Boats have had their engines disabled and herring dumped in their gasoline tanks, while others have been rammed or sunk. Two years ago, two fishermen were arrested for an altercation in which one fisherman steered his boat across another boat's wake at high speed. The captain of the second boat responded by firing his shotgun across the first boat's bow.
On Manticus Island this summer, 41-year-old lobsterman Chris Young was shot in the neck by another lobsterman, Vance Bunker. Bunker's son-in-law, Alan Miller, is a fisherman from Wheelers Bay who had begun fishing off Manticus Island when he married a local woman. But the island's fisherman voted to ban him from fishing in its waters, branding him an outsider. Bunker's support of his son-in-law had embroiled him in heated arguments with other fishermen, and he reported receiving threats in the days leading up to the shooting.
In another recent incident, someone released raccoons onto Manticus Island, presumably in retaliation from being barred from fishing there.
Fishermen on Manticus Island have appealed to the state to ban outsiders from fishing its waters, and use the Marine Patrol to enforce the law.