Barrage of sabotage hits Maine lobstermen

A man walks out on a wharf in Friendship, Maine, Thursday, May 10, 2012. Two lobster boats were recently sunk by vandals in Friendship. The dispute among tightlipped lobstermen points to the unwritten laws of the sea: Fishermen mete out justice themselves, sometimes with violent results.(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty

Last Updated 1:45 p.m. ET

(AP) FRIENDSHIP, Maine - The sinking of two lobster boats is rekindling memories of hostilities among lobstermen three years ago that led to a near-fatal shooting, boats being sunk and a barrage of lobster trap vandalism along Maine's lobster-rich coast.

Someone this week sabotaged two lobster boats, allowing them to drift free and flood with water before washing ashore in this postcard-pretty harbor. The dispute shone a light on the unwritten rules of the sea, where fishermen often take matters into their own hands to settle grudges.

Lobstermen for generations have cut trap lines and shouted threats to settle differences over who can set their traps where. In more extreme instances, they've been known to ram boats and fire warning shots into the air.

The vandalism crossed the line late Monday night, when the 28-foot Lobstah Taxi and the 35-foot Fantaseas were sunk. Only a portion of the larger boat's cabin was above water when it was found Tuesday morning on an island outside the harbor. The smaller boat was found on a mainland beach, but escaped serious damage.

Investigators don't know if the attacks were the result of a personal vendetta or a territorial feud. At the least, they've brought unwanted attention to this fishing community 75 miles northeast of Portland.

"It's sad, awful sad," said lobsterman Doug Simmons, 60, as he worked on his gear Thursday in preparation for setting his traps in the coming weeks. "It's cost people a lot of money."

One of two lobster boats recently sunk by vandals is seen in a boatyard in Friendship, Maine, Thursday, May 10, 2012.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

The boats were owned by Gary Jones and his 15-year-old son, Logan, who live in the neighboring town of Cushing, said Marine Patrol Sgt. Rene Cloutier, who is investigating with the Knox County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"There's nothing that says this is a territorial thing," Cloutier said. "It could be, but nothing points that way now."

Gary Jones has been on the receiving end of vandalism before. In 2010, another Cushing lobsterman was charged with cutting 22 of his lobster buoys. At the time, Jones said trap and gear vandalism had cost him nearly $10,000 over three years.

Gary Jones' wife, Tina Jones, said she and her husband aren't commenting on this week's incident, adding that her husband and son are hard-working fishermen.

"People are looking at us and thinking if that happened to us we must be bad-a---d people," she said.

This week's boat sinkings are bringing back memories of 2009, when hostilities especially were in high gear.

On remote Matinicus Island, 20 miles offshore, a lobsterman fired a handgun at two fellow lobstermen, hitting one in the neck in a near-fatal dispute over lobster traps. A jury later found Vance Bunker not guilty of elevated aggravated assault.

Two weeks after the shooting, someone sank two lobster boats and damaged a third in Owls Head, another midcoast fishing harbor. Throughout the summer, police investigated a rash of complaints about lobster trap lines being cut, resulting in lost lobster gear.