Thursday, 4:30 PM
Lobstermen, divers clash
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff
A maritime battle has erupted off Cape Ann, pitting old salts who set down lobster pots against scuba divers who glide silently beneath the surface, bobbing and weaving between their rope lines.
Lobstermen say divers have been slipping deep underwater, using the cover of the sea to unlock their traps and steal their lobsters. Divers say lobstermen have been gunning their motorboats and yanking on the diversí flags to scare them out of the water.
City officials in Gloucester have vowed to intervene, but the allegations have stirred up a roiling debate over who really rules the sea, lobstermen or their underwater counterparts. Both sides say they want to share the waters off Cape Ann, but with hundreds of divers and lobstermen competing for the most bountiful spots, many doubt they can coexist in peace.
"Itís the Hatfields and the McCoys," grumbled Fred Calhoun, 72, who has been diving off Gloucester since he was a teenager. "Itís a feud."
Fueling the latest skirmish in the undersea conflict is a local ordinance in Gloucester that requires divers to signal their presence with a flag attached to a buoy. Lobstermen strongly support the rule, saying the telltale red and white markers help them navigate safely around divers.
But divers say that with so many of them sharing coastal waters, they have been getting tangled in the lines that anchor the flags. They have petitioned the City Council to repeal the rule and allow them to fly only one flag for every group of divers who take to the sea. The Council has held two hearings on the issue, and has a third planned for next month. But so far, the city has refused to amend the rule.