AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — A compromise has been reached over a controversial bill that would allow the Department of Marine Resources to secretly place tracking devices on lobster boats.
The measure is aimed at cracking down on violators of lobstering laws.
The Maine Lobstermen's Union had been strongly opposed to the bill, saying it gave the commissioner too much authority by allowing him to covertly track boats. But after a discussion with the commissioner this morning the union now backs the bill.
"After having a meeting with the commissioner on this issue he has agreed to go to a judge prior to putting a surveillance tracking device on someone's boat," said Rocky Alley, president of the union.
Even with a judge's permission investigators can still secretly place the device on the boat without the owner's knowledge.
"I don't have to notify the boat owner that we're going to track them and again, it's all based on probable cause," said DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher.
The bill aims to get tough on violators in the richest fishing industry in Maine.
"Add in processing and everything, this is more than a billion dollar industry to the state of Maine," Keliher said, "and we have to take these violations very seriously to protect that."
As lobstermen fish further offshore it's getting easier for them to cheat.
"So we have a lot more people fishing offshore, much more difficult to catch violators offshore," said Patrice McCarron of the Maine Lobstermen's Association.
McCarron said if allowing investigators to covertly place tracking devices on boats of suspected cheaters leads to more arrests, the industry will be better off.
"If you cheat, if you run extra traps, there's a lot of money to be made and all the guys who are playing by the rules, quite frankly, they're sick of it," she said.
The bill won approval of the Maine Senate. It now goes to the Hhouse for a vote.