Brunswick hopes to hold fisherman liable for shore cleanup

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BRUNSWICK — The town is negotiating with the Department of Marine Resources to identify a fisherman who dumped thousands of dead pogies into the waters just off of Middle Bay earlier this month, causing a stink that irritated shorefront property and business owners.

If successful, Town Manager John Eldridge said the town will press to use the fisherman’s liability insurance for the cost of the clean-up service hired June 22 to collect nearly 2,100 gallons of rotting fish that had collected on the banks since June 6.

Clean Harbors worked for 12 hours, Harbormaster Dan Devereaux said Tuesday, at a labor rate previously reported to cost $300 an hour.

The work eliminated about 95 percent of the odor, Devereaux said, especially when combined with the 30 bushels of pogies hauled off by volunteers last week and the high tides that have washed the dead fish out to sea.

The DMR has declined to release the identity of the fisherman because he violated no laws when he released his catch. 

The DMR is also facing pressure from other fishermen, who say the department’s explanation for the dump doesn’t pass the sniff test.

The Maine Marine Patrol and the DMR reported the incident happened after a purse seine fisherman couldn’t handle a particularly large catch.

But in a video posted online last week, lobsterman Steve Alexander rejected that explanation.

No fisherman wants to release his catch, he said, assailing the DMR for portraying the incident as the consequence of incompetence, rather than an act inspired by regulatory restrictions.

He argued that fishermen release their catch because they are forced to comply with daily catch quotas set by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – regulations he inaccurately attributed to the state, according to DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols.

“The assertion that the state sets the daily limit is wrong. That limit of 120,000 pounds is set by ASMFC and implemented through rule making by the state,” Nichols said.

“The assertion in the video that this was connected to the daily limit was (also) wrong,” Nichols added. “The department is not getting reports of harvesters dumping fish because of the daily limits.”

Ben Martens, director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, generally agreed with Alexander.

“I don’t know the details of what happened in this instance, but I do know that no one, especially a fisherman, wants to needlessly kill a fish,” he said in an email Wednesday morning.

He pointed out pogies – or menhaden, as they’re also known – are a historic fishery that has been absent in recent years and is just now returning to Maine’s waters. The small fish are commonly used to bait lobsters, and Martens said the state and community should encourage anglers and forgive the learning curve.

“For some fishermen, 2017 may be the first time that they are participating in this fishery, which is fantastic for the durability of our fishing communities, but like any new skill, may result in growing pains and a learning curve,” he said.

As to how Brunswick will pursue actions against the fisherman, Devereaux said he, at least, is only concerned with holding one person accountable.

“My biggest complaint is the fact that fishermen have insurance,” Devereaux said. “Not that we should persecute the fishermen or prosecute them … but if (their actions) affect people’s quality of life or the ecosystem, then that’s what the insurance is there for.”

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Clean Harbors spent 12 hours on June 22 vacuuming rotting fish from 4 miles of coastline along Middle Bay in Brunswick. The job reportedly cost the town $300 an hour.

Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or