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Nearly every summer, tensions flare among Maine's lobster fishermen over who has the right to place traps in specified areas. The origins of the industry's unofficial territorial system go back to about 1890, said University of Maine professor James Acheson, who has written two books on the subject.

Mostly, those territorial rights stay within local fishing families or among long-timers in the same harbors.

When fishermen feel their turf is being encroached upon, they send signals to the offending lobsterman by leaving a note in a bottle in the trap, by tying a knot in the buoy rope or by cutting out the door to the trap so lobsters can escape. Sometimes they resort to cutting trap lines - resulting in lost traps, which can cost $80 to $100 each.

Lobstermen have been known to ram their boats into each other and occasionally show a gun. Once in Portland Harbor, a boat crew jumped onto another boat and struggled with another crew before they were tossed overboard.

On occasion, lobstermen fire warning shots, and Acheson remembers a lobsterman once firing bullets through another boat's windshield in Penobscot Bay. On Matinicus a few years ago, two fishermen were charged after one of them fired a shotgun at the other.

For the most part, Maine fishermen respect their established territories, Acheson said.

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