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DMR Home > Marine Patrol > History

The History of Marine Patrol
Author Lieutenant Daniel Morris

On January 9, 1867 a resolve was read by a Mr. Davis from the committee on fisheries to the Maine house of representatives. The resolve, no. 10 of the forty-sixth legislature, was entitled "A Resolve Relative to the Restoration of Sea Fish to the Rivers and Inland Waters of Maine". The 200-plus word resolve said, in part, "that the Governor, by and with the advice and consent of the council, be authorized to appoint two Commissioners whose duty it shall be to examine the rivers, and other waters of this state, or such part thereof as they deem sufficient to the consideration of the subject of the restoration of sea-fish to our lakes and their tributary streams."

The two Commissioners were Mr. N.W. Foster and Mr. Charles G. Atkins and these 2 men, whose first budget was not to exceed $200.00, put into action Maine's first attempts to conserve and improve fishery resources on a statewide level. Both the Department's of Marine Resources and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife can directly trace their respective origins to these two "Commissioners of Fisheries".

To say however, that there were no other conservation efforts before 1867 is, to say the least, not accurate. Records of such endeavors are, of course, few and far between, but do deserve mentioning, as prior, more localized efforts were brought into the statewide realm as time went on.

Public law 1843, C. 25 directed the Governor to appoint "a commission of, 3 suitable persons whom shall be a resident of each of the counties of Penobscot, Hancock, and Waldo to be called county fish warden; "the county fish wardens were sworn as civil officers and they were to maintain general supervision over the fisheries of salmon, shad, and alewives in the waters of Penobscot Bay, river and streams emptying into the same. The county fish wardens could appoint deputy wardens and they had the authority to inspect all dams, weirs, nets and other contrivances so as to ensure the passage of anadromous fish in that area. "It shall be the duty of all county and all deputy wardens, by all lawful means, to prevent the taking or destroying of any of the fish aforesaid, in any of said waters in violation of law, and also to institute prosecutions for all such offenses against this act as shall come to their knowledge, and prosecute the same to final judgment." The county warden was paid $2.00 per day and deputies $1.00 per day.

Another very old seafood regulation dealt with the inspection of fish products. Created by P. L. 1821, C. 150, Sub. 1, these "inspectors of fish" were appointed by the Governor, and bonded by each town where fish were pickled and/or smoked, and were "sworn to the faithful discharge of his duties". This law, which in 1901 came to be administered by the Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission, and was not repealed until 1954, dictated how fish were packed so as to ensure proper weights and quality of the fish. Each wooden cask had to be constructed of certain woods and dimensions and be branded as to species, weight, size of fish, and quality of the fish. These inspectors were paid by commission as follow; .17 per case, .10 per tierce, .07 per barrel, .04 per ½ barrel, and .02 per box of smoked product and all paid by the seller.

A similar method of clam inspection began in 1839 but was repealed in 1845.

The relevance of the 1843 fish warden is striking because it was the 1843 law that was repealed and replaced in 1933 when the Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries was established and such laws were consolidated. An argument certainly could be made that the 1843 fish warden is the origin of our current marine patrol officer, the only difference being the local versus the statewide nature of their work. Considering, that in 1843 statewide travel was a major undertaking, any statewide law would be very difficult to enforce, at best.

As a result of the resolve of 1867, the Commissioners of Fisheries reported back to the legislature in 1868 with 11 recommendations, 2 of which were to; 1) establish a board of Commissioners who would have general supervision of fisheries throughout the state; 2) establish a board of wardens for each river basin.

The Commissioners were "deemed essential to secure the proper enforcement of the law, and the vigorous advancement of measures for the improvement of the fisheries."

"The wardens should be appointed by the state, should be sworn to a faithful performance of their duties, a penalty being affixed for neglect, should have power, and it should be their duty; to enforce the law; to seize all implements of fishing found in illegal use, and to bring the offender to justice; to decide upon the plan and location of fishways, subject to the approval of the Commissioners, and enforce their building subject to the same approval; the number of men appointed and the compensation allowed should be sufficient to ensure the full execution of the laws."

As part of the report Mr. Foster and Mr. Atkins detailed a river by river account of then current species, fishing methods (mostly weirs), and regulations stating that there were 150' "numerous and diverse" statutes, increasing by 8-10 yearly.

In addition, they wrote of Kennebec River fish wardens and how "amusing stories are told of the manner in which the officers were outwitted." They also pointed out that it is "folly for an officer to attempt to enforce it, (the law), on twenty-five dollars a year."

By 1870 Mr. Atkins reported that the Commissioners of Fisheries had expended $2,000.00 of which $1,000.00 was for wardens.

Annual reports of the Commissioners of Fisheries continued until 1880 when it became known as the Commissioners of Fisheries and Game. It was about this time that "Game" wardens came to be. The Fisheries and Game Biennial reports started in 1884-86 and included reports from the Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission. Two individuals played a large role for Sea & Shore Fisheries. In 1872 Mr. E. M. Stilwell and Mr. Henry O. Stanley became Commissioners. Each were to serve almost continuously until 1894. Regrettably there is precious little information on these two Commissioners who oversaw Maine's fisheries for twenty-two years.

Then in 1895 the Commissioners of Fisheries & Game were separated into the Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission and the Fish and Game Commission.

Orin B. Whitten of Portland became the first Commissioner and P.L. 1897, Chapter 285 consolidated Maine's public laws relative to the Sea and Shore Fisheries. The Commissioner was appointed by the Governor and his term was for three years, with an annual salary of $1,000.00 per year. His duty was to "exercise supervision over all the fisheries and its products taken from tide waters within the State, including the proper enforcement of all laws relating to the catching, packing, curing, manufacturing, branding and transportation of all kinds of pickled, salt, smoked, fresh, canned, frozen shell and other fish."

Fish wardens were approved by the Governor upon recommendation of the Commissioner for a three year term and who "shall enforce all laws and rules and regulations relating to Sea and Shore Fisheries, arrest all violators thereof, and prosecute all offenses against the same."

Fish wardens were entrusted with Sheriff's powers but could not exercise jurisdiction outside the county of their residence unless so instructed in writing by the Commissioner. They also had to post a bond of $2,000.00 to the treasurer of the State, conditioned upon the faithful performance of their duties. The influence of the inspectors of fish of 1821 and the county fish wardens of 1843 is clear.

The authority of the fish warden was, not unlike today's officer. That he "may, with or without warrant, enter upon any vessel, boat, receptacle for fish, or any place or places used therefore, and seize and carry away all fish liable to seizure found therein, and may, with or without warrant, search any car or pound used for the keeping of fish, and seize and carry away all fish liable to seizure found therein, the fish in each case to be disposed of according to law."

Some the of laws of the day dealt with anadromous fish runs as well as a $1.00 bounty for each seal nose; a 10 ½ overall lobster length which in 1895 put canning out of business; egg lobster penalty of $10.00 each; knowingly interferes with a lobster trap, penalty not less than $20.00 or more than $50.00 if the buoys were branded with the owner's name in 3/4" letters. There were many weir laws and private and special laws were more numerous than state statute. Laws such as "an act to better protect the lobster industry of Monhegan" were enacted in 1907 that prohibited lobster fishing in waters adjacent to Monhegan from June 25 to January 15. This law was amended to Nov. 1 in 1923, and to December 1 in 1929 and to January 1 in 1949 as it currently stands to this day.

In 1898 Commissioner Alonzo Nickerson of Boothbay Harbor printed as part of his biennial report, a list of fish wardens then employed. There were 23 full-time fish wardens listed by town and county and 9 part-time sardine wardens listed by town.

Mr. Nickerson wrote about the "wardens and their work"; "there are, in the State and on duty at the present time, twenty-three fish wardens who serve twelve months in the year, and nine sardine wardens who serve but six months in the year. The duties of these men are to look up and bring to justice violators, and to gather statistical information for this Department. I have no occasion to find fault with those on duty now and I believe they are doing what they are able to do for the benefit of the State. If the citizens of the state would assist these men in the performance of their duties, instead of sympathizing with the violators, it would be a much easier task that would fall to their lot. With a larger force of wardens employed, the nearer we might approach a strict observance of our laws on the coast; but with the present appropriation, we are employing as many as can be paid."

The significant fisheries of the day were listed as to their importance; 1. herring, 2. lobster, 3. menhaden (for oil), 4. clams and scallops, 5. smelts, 6. groundfish, 7. mackerel, 8. alewives, 9. shad.

Mr. Nickerson noted that "some of our summer visitor while among us and in the vicinity of the factories, (menhaden) find some fault on account of the offensive odor; some because they actually smell it, and others because they have been taught to believe that they must smell it if within a mile of the factory." The last rendering plant in Maine closed in Rockland in the late 1980's.

Further consolidation of Sea and Shore Fisheries laws occurred in 1901 and 1913 but resulted in few significant changes. One of the changes involved lobsters however as the 10 ½" total length was replaced in 1907 with a 4 3/4" length from the tip of the nose to the rear of the body shell.

In 1917, under the administration of Governor Carl E. Millien, P.L. 1917, Chapter 293 abolished the 1-man commissioner and organized a 3 man commission that appointed a "Director" who served as an executive officer of the commission. Politics played a role in this change as the new law actually dictated that 2 of the commissioners must come from the political party casting the largest number of votes in the last election, with the third commissioner coming from the party with the second largest number of votes.

The first director was to be the current, displaced Commissioner Oscar H. Dunbar, soon replaced by Harry G. Sanborn of Rockland. The three commissioners were Horatio D. Crie of Castine, Harry C. Wilbur of Portland, and Edwin W. Gould of Rockland.

Fish Wardens were appointed by the Director and served at his pleasure. All current wardens were terminated, and it was not clear how many were re-appointed. Their compensation was to be determined by the Director but could not exceed $3.00 per day. The office of deputy warden was also abolished, but for the first time, fish wardens authority was extended without exception to all counties and waters of the state. In 1919 the lobster length was changed to 3 ½" from the rear of the eye socket to the rear end of the body shell. The size stayed in effect until 1933 and was known as the "Starvation Measure."

Mr. Crie would go on to play a role in Marine Resources Management for the next 17 years. His reports through those years demonstrated his life-time involvement with the fisheries of Maine. He consistently championed the Department and Commission causes and implored the Legislature to provide adequate funding. His requests always were justified by portraying the fisherman, as god-fearing and brave souls, first to stand up and serve in the Great World War past, and deserving of the maximum state efforts to provide a consistent living from the sea. He instituted studies of sea-birds, lobsters, and fish utilizing federal and University assistance. He knew the value of accurate statistics and attempted in vain for 17 years to license each fisherman. His commitment to this agency cannot be overlooked. In comparison, Ronald Green served 15 years from 1957 to 1972, followed by Spencer Appolonio who served 10 years total in the 1970's and '80's.

The 1924 Biennial report of the Sea & Shore Fisheries Commission listed in its plea for appropriate funding many issues of the day. It stated that the sardine pack from 1917 amounted to 2,300,000 cases, sold for $12,150,000. The fifty-two factories, then operating consumed 1,500,000 bushels of herring. There were 83 smoking houses that produced 899,280 boxes of cured and scaled fish that sold for $98,920. Approximately 12,000 people were employed in this fishery alone.

This report emphasized the destruction of river species such as smelt, alewives and famous "Penobscot River Salmon" which had declined to the point of extinction.

The report further stated that stringent lobster laws had been enacted and that repealing the current law as Massachusetts had done, would be the ruin of the industry, the commission put its faith into the purchase of seed lobsters and hatchery-raised lobsters.

The commission stated that sixty wardens would be an adequate number to efficiently patrol the coast. It asked the legislature to consider its appropriation to the Inland Fisheries and Game and Agriculture Departments so that coastal fisheries and fishermen might be treated equally with the sportsman and farmers of Maine.

The biennial report of 1926 bemoaned the fact that it had been very difficult to obtain accurate statistical information from Maine's fisheries. It was impossible for wardens to see all the fishermen in all of the isolated places along the coast and that fishermen were not eager to "advertise" good or poor catches to anyone. The 3-man commission proposed that each fisherman be "licensed" and be required to submit accurate reports in order to obtain the license. The proposed $2 fee "would not work a hardship on any fisherman and he would have the satisfaction of feeling that he was contributing to the support of the Department."

The report went on to advocate that people should eat more fish, including fatty fish such as mackerel, herring and shad, non-fatty fish like cod, hake and haddock as well as smelts, clams and winter eels.

The report continued by recommending the repeal of the gasoline tax on fishermen. An impassioned account of the plight of being a fisherman includes "A fishermen's life is filled with disappointments, with hazards and with destruction, but never was disappointment more clearly felt than when he was confronted by a gasoline tax. Nothing could be more unjust, nothing could be more discouraging to a person who braves the sea to furnish food."

It was estimated that 5,000 people fished for lobster alone, out of 12,000 total fishermen and, about 50,000 depended on, or were supported by sea products. The report also extolled the virtue of the 3-man vs. 1-man commission and advised the 1927 legislature not to return to the old ways.

The appropriations listed in the previous two years showed about 4,500 licenses sold for about $500 and fines of about $2,000 with an annual budget of approx. $65,000. This report hoped to justify an $80,000 annual appropriation. Without this money the department would be forced to layoff a number of wardens in the winter and put others on half-time as they had been forced to do in previous years. "The most of our wardens are getting only $3.00 per day and a subsistence allowance of $.60 per day when away from home on boats, and unless we can have the amount asked for we shall lose some of our most valuable men."

Among the recommendations of the commission's 1928 report were to obtain one new seaworthy boat, 3-year license suspension for second offense, 5-year for a third offense and a 10-year residency requirement for lobster license. "We believe that our native sons should be protected against the foreign element because of foreigners are usually the most persistent violators.

Then in 1931, P.L. 1931, Chapter 216 again changed the structure and name of the Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission to the new Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries. The three member commission and the office of director was abolished and replaced with a single commissioner appointed by the Governor, effective July 1, 1932.

Further changes in 1933 mentions how the commissioner could make rules and that they would have the effect of law as long as the two were not inconsistent. Fish wardens were still appointed by and served at the pleasure of the Commissioner. Laws of the day still dealt heavily with the taking of anadramous fish but other laws came into being such as polluted clam flats. Either the commissioner of Sea and Shore or Agriculture could close flats. More lobster laws were also in effect such as needing a license to sell, (no license required for home consumption), 4 classes of licenses, (first class fishermen, second class selling, third class shipping, and fourth class smackmens). The 3 year resident requirement, (up from 1 year), was in effect as was the infamous "dumping" law. All lobster licenses expired on the last day of June. Traps could only be fished on trawls by permission of the Commissioner. Seed lobsters could be legally retained by a harvester if they were for sale to the Commissioner at 15% above market price. They were "punched" with a hole in the middle flipper before release. The minimum size was 3 1/16" carapace length. A maximum size was established at 4 3/4". Measures were available from the commissioner at cost and a penalty of $5.00 per lobster was assessed for shorts, either live or canned. The first description of the libel process was also included.

In 1935 Commissioner Rodney E. Feyler, of Thomaston and his chief clerk, Helen Hallowell, listed 26 wardens, 7 deputy wardens, 2 full-time "girls" and 2 part- time "girls" as well as 2 boats. He advised that the wardens had been on year-round pay for the previous two years in 1936. The lobster maximum size was increased to 5." A lobster hatchery called the Governor Barrows rearing station was established in Boothbay Harbor in 1937 but was closed in 1949.

In 1936, Commissioner Feyler reported that there were 27 wardens employed year-round. An office at the State House was moved to Thomaston and a machine shop was maintained on Tillson Ave., in Rockland Mr. Feyler reported that the warden force had two skilled boat builders, who for the sum of $7,000 would build and completely outfit a suitable patrol boat. The current boats were unseaworthy or inefficient for use. Mr. Feyler wrote that several of the wardens received $28./per week and the rest $21 with an additional $1 per day for the use of their own boats. He wrote, in part, "each warden is assigned to a section of the coast and they are expected to carry out the functions of the department in their respective territories. They are instructed to be impartial and yet work in the closest cooperation with the fishermen. The warden of today is a friend of the fisherman and is interested in his welfare."

Perhaps Mr. Feylers highest priority was to build a lobster-rearing facility as the catch of lobster had dropped from 19,000,000 lbs. (est.) In 1910 to less than 5,000,000 lbs. In 1935. His budget was $71,394 for 1936 and he had requested $117,610 for each of the next two years.

The next significant change took place in 1947. P.L. 1947 Chapter 332 changed the commissioners term from 3 to 4 years and the name fish warden was changed to "coastal warden". The coastal warden was still appointed by the Commissioner but served under the rules of the civil service code. Wardens were required for the first time to pass a written examination to be hired. The Department's advisory council came into being under the revision. A ten-year residency requirement for lobsters had been in effect since 1939 but was changed to 3 years until 1979 when the residency issue was decided by the courts and changed again to the standard today of 6 months.

The Department's history and that of the warden's were one and the same until 1948. During the late 1940's and early 1950's under Commissioner Richard Reed the Department embarked on an ambitious program of research which culminated with the establishment of a permanent research station on McKown Point in Boothbay Harbor. Robert Dow was hired to gather biological information and he was soon followed by Philip Googins and Dana Wallace to "research" the marine issues of the day. This small contingent, who started work in the "old" lobster hatchery, grew steadily to become the largest Bureau of the Department. Staffing levels of the warden service held steady at about 26-30 throughout the 1950's and into the 1960's while the Department overall grew through greater emphasis on research, development and marketing. Statute laws began to overtake the private and special laws. Lobster size changes had occurred several times. The minimum was changed from 3 1/8" in 1942 to 3 3/16" in 1958. The maximum had gone from 5" in 1958 to 5 3/16" then back to 5" in 1960. V-notch laws, which started in 1948, had replaced the punched hole and "mutilated" language was developed as well.

The warden service made improvements in equipment with the addition of outboard powered boats, radar for larger patrol boats "Guardian", "Explorer" and "Hell-Cat". Two-way radio's were installed in warden vehicles, an airplane on floats was first utilized by the coastal warden service. A 1960 estimate by Chief Warden John Anderson put the cost of outfitting a new warden at $6,000.00. He also wrote that a record 35 applicants had tested to be a candidate for warden. He listed the 1960 complement of the coastal warden service at 32 men, of which 24 were wardens. He also listed over 300 fisheries laws and regulations, a dozen different licenses and 63 polluted closed areas. Two hundred and ninety four violations were detected in 1960. Chief Anderson stated that with 10,000 fishermen, there was 1 warden per 300 fishermen and with the expansion of Maine's fisheries, additional personnel would be needed to maintain current services. Restrictions on lobster trap hauling times came into effect and it became illegal to take lobsters by any method other than a trap.

A state government re-organization in 1973 again changed the Department's name to the Department of Marine Resources. It expanded the Department's scope into the environmental arena and interaction at the federal level. The advisory council was also expanded. It was at this time that individual bureaus were established within the Department. The mid-1970's also saw the addition of an 83' combination research-enforcement vessel "Challenge" and the establishment of 2-44' patrol boats, the "Maine" and the "Guardian". These new vessels replaced the retired "Guardian", "Explorer" and "Hell-Cat". Additional outboard-powered boats, state vehicles, (wardens used their own vehicles before 1977) and other new equipment enhanced a wardens capabilities. In 1973 thirty-six uniformed personnel were listed and 28 were field wardens. The decade of the '70's brought laws such as lobster trap escape vents and later on, ghost panels. Lobster advisory and promotion councils were established later on as well.

In 1978 another significant change occurred as the name coastal warden was changed to today's Marine Patrol Officer. The marine patrol officer is a highly trained law enforcement officer and is certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. A candidate must pass strenuous oral boards, written examinations, physical agility tests and polygraph/psychological profiles. An officer of the Maine marine patrol is issued a multitude of equipment such as, 4-wheel drive pick-up trucks, 16-22 outboard powered boats, night vision scopes and video cameras, the new officer costs approximately $100,000.00 to outfit today. The bureau also operates the 44' "Guardian" and a new class of high-speed 35' patrol boats, the "Winds" and the "Sentinel". These lobster style boats are all high-performance, diesel-powered and capable of 20 plus knots. All are equipped with the latest in electronic aids to navigation and provide year-round, all-weather capability.

The Bureau is divided into two field divisions with a lieutenant manning a regional office in each division. Each division is divided into three sections with a field sergeant in charge of 6 officers in each section. Full complement, as this is written is 46 personnel of which 36 are officers. Overall manpower has increased by only 23 people since the age of sail in 1898. The Department of Marine Resources, which consisted only of wardens prior to 1950, currently employs about 160 people. With department headquarters at Hallowell, there are 2 regional biology and enforcement offices located in Lamoine and in Boothbay Harbor.