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Two firefighters accused of diving for undersized lobsters

State law dictates that lobsters removed from the water must be male and at least 3 1/2 inches from the eye socket to the base of the tail. State law dictates that lobsters removed from the water must be male and at least 3 1/2 inches from the eye socket to the base of the tail. (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF/FILE)

Two firefighters, one from Westborough and one from Hopkinton, are in hot water for allegedly catching undersized lobsters during a recreational dive in the waters off Gloucester.

William Carrier of Westborough, a firefighter, paramedic, and member of the dive team for his hometown, and Matthew Bailey, a Hopkinton firefighter and dive team member, will return to Gloucester District Court today for a pretrial hearing on 12 counts each of illegal lobster possession and charges of diving without permits and the right gear, according to the state Environmental Police.

"They were in dive gear. They were diving and they were bringing up short lobsters," said Lisa Capone, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. The men are also charged with illegally hauling in a female lobster.

The firefighters may be facing misdemeanor charges, but their bosses are more amused than upset.

Westborough Fire Chief Walter Perron said the charges will not affect Carrier's status as an active firefighter in the department, for which he has worked for more than a decade.

"It happened off duty in his private life and had nothing to do with his position," said Perron, who received a call from Carrier soon after the arrest. "He is a model employee. It has no effect on his job."

Perron said he would think and act differently if Carrier had been charged with a crime against a person or if the incident had occurred while he was on duty. "I guess I can't get too excited about a crime against a lobster. I told him his file is going to [include] an A and B [assault and battery] on a lobster. I told him to go to Lake Chauncy [in Westborough] from now on."

Hopkinton Fire Chief Gary Daugherty said the charges will not affect Bailey, a Worcester resident and firefighter for five years.

" 'Cause he harassed some lobsters? I'll tell you I know there's laws and all, but that's really silly," Daughtery said. "It really doesn't affect anything here."

Since January 1989, state law has strictly regulated the size and type of lobster that can be removed from the water by commercial or recreational divers or lobstermen. Lobsters must be male and at least 3 1/2 inches from the eye socket to the base of the tail.

Violators can be punished -- for every short lobster -- by a fine of $100 to $500 and imprisonment of up to one month to three months. There are steeper penalties for possessing female lobsters, which are needed to keep the lobster populations growing, according to the state laws. Violators face fines of $150 to $500 and imprisonment of two months to six months.

The firefighters and a third man, Kennith Ward of Northbridge, allegedly were caught just before 2 p.m. May 27 -- the day before Memorial Day -- on Shore Road in the Magnolia section of town with 11 lobsters smaller than those dimensions and one female lobster, said Environmental Police Deputy Dan Connolly. They were arraigned on May 30 in Gloucester District Court and released without bail, according to the clerk's office.

Bailey said he had no comment when he was reached at the Hopkinton Fire Station Monday afternoon. Carrier did not return calls to his home and the fire station seeking comment.

Problems with divers gathering undersized lobsters are common in the waters off Cape Ann, where the divers have irked lobstermen who have been working the water for generations, according to state and local police.

"It's commonplace for us to receive complaints in the summertime of divers with short lobsters," Gloucester police Lieutenant Thomas Williams said. "It's typical for divers to go in and get short lobsters."