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November 22. 2014 6:15PM

Dick Pinney's Guide Lines: The wild life and times of a state conservation officer

Memories: A late-night call led to illegally trapped lobsters and one ultimately remorseful prankster.



BACK IN my conservation officer duty in the mid-1960s, we were required to let our district chief C.O. know where we could be reached on our days off.

So calls 24 hours a day would often be answered by our faithful wives or other occupants of our homes.

Calls that came in during the midnight hours would leave my wife shivering in fright and often we'd see tears flowing when I struggled into my uniform and strapped my sidearm to my side. And I'd see her highlighted in our bedroom window, watching me leave. To be perfectly frank, often my guts would be churning.

One late August evening, a phone call awakened us around 1 a.m. "Someone is out on the Piscataqua River off Patterson Lane in Newington hauling lobster gear using a small boat and pulling the traps by hand."

On my way, we had to put together a plan that would assure me of being able to capture the lobster thief or thieves with some security to my safety. Don't know to this day why we didn't call for some backup with local or state police, except that it was going to take some stealth on my part to execute this bust without the lobsters being jettisoned into the river, which happened so many times in the past.

Shutting off the interior and exterior lights of my cruiser, we parked well away from the shoreline. In the light of the moon as we quietly approached the shoreline, the lights of several large riverside industries made locating my suspects easy. We watched them haul one trap and that's all we needed. Even if they were the legal owners of that lobster gear, just the fact that they were hauling gear after the legal time was enough to apprehend them. And watching them dump all the lobsters into a huge sack was enough to convince me that likely those were mostly undersized or egged-up females, which were illegal to possess.

We moved our cruiser about a quarter-mile up the lane. We were well hidden by foliage when after about 45 minutes here came the same sedan that we'd seen parked by the landing. There were four men in it.

Blue lights flashing and siren wailing, we jumped out in front of them and to the driver's window, which was down, and announced that they were all under arrest. Immediately we recognized one of them as a person we knew. He had just been released from state prison for assault on a State Police officer

"Where are the lobsters?" I yelled. "Right there next to the door, if you're man enough to get them," he snarled back.

Like a lightning strike, I whipped that passenger side door open, ran to my cruiser with the lobsters, and locked them in the trunk. With voice quivering, I called State Police Station A in Exeter on my radio, asking for assistance.

I went back to their vehicle and told them that soon we'd be seeing some company because several "staties" were on their way. By then their mood was quite condescending. The driver told me this was all his plan and that he'd talked the others into joining him after having too much to drink. And I believed his story.

"Are you willing to take the blame and punishment?" I asked.

"Yes, if you'll let these other guys go," he said.

"Get out, go stand next to my cruiser and show me your pockets," I said. He had no weapons.

On our way to Portsmouth police station, he said he appreciated my courtesy as we passed several cruisers coming at warp speed. Now with some control over the situation, we called off the assistance and at the police station, and my now-meek and peaceful offender was as compliant as he had said. And my heartbeats were headed toward normal when I called Jane and told her to put on a pot of coffee that her "Dickie" was OK and on the way to hearth and home.

The fines were substantial. Just another day in paradise.


Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.


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