Maine Marine Patrol Spc. Evan Whidden talks on the radio aboard his 42-foot patrol vessel, the Endeavor. (Maine Marine Patrol photo)

Harpswell native Evan Whidden has been hauling lobster traps since he was 5 or 6. He grew up around his family’s lobster and fishing business on Harpswell Neck, spent summers lobstering in high school and college, and ran his own lobster boat for two years after he graduated from the University of Maine.

Whidden is still hauling traps, but now with a different purpose: He is a specialist with the Maine Marine Patrol, the law enforcement agency of the Maine Department of Marine Resources. As a specialist, he captains one of the agency’s patrol boats.

Since 2020, he has covered the waters from Freeport to Bremen, making sure fishermen are complying with state and federal laws, assisting with search-and-rescue operations, and performing other law enforcement tasks.

Whidden feels like he’s a good match for the job. “I always knew I didn’t want to lobster full time, and I wanted a job that meant a lot to me personally and the people in the community,” he says. “Since I knew so much about commercial fishing in Maine, it just felt like the perfect fit.”

Lobstermen evidently feel the same way. In March, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association recognized Whidden as 2022’s Marine Patrol Officer of the Year. A nomination letter cites Whidden’s hard work. He and his crew spent almost 1,000 hours on the water and hauled nearly 12,000 lobster traps, more than any other officer in the state.

Maine Lobstermen’s Association President Kristan Porter says those numbers are only part of the story.

“Evan’s background as a lobsterman makes him a better officer because he understands the lobster conservation program from both sides,” Porter says. “His experience helps him to know the difference between an honest mistake versus someone who is cheating on purpose.”

The association has given the award annually since 1994. Porter says managing a healthy lobster population is vital for their industry. That’s why the lobster industry works with Marine Patrol to follow state and federal laws meant to protect lobsters. Lobstermen throw back lobsters that are too big or too small, and only set a certain number of traps at a time, among other things.

Maine Marine Patrol Spc. Evan Whidden holds a plaque recognizing him as the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s Marine Patrol Officer of the Year. From left: Col. Matthew Talbot, chief of the Maine Marine Patrol; Patrice McCarron, policy director at the Maine Lobstermen’s Association; Whidden; Kristan Porter, president of the Lobstermen’s Association; and Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. (Maine Lobstermen’s Association photo)

“While most Maine lobstermen do the right thing, it’s important to keep those who don’t honest,” Porter says, which is where Marine Patrol officers like Whidden come in. Good officers also help lobstermen to understand the rules, like new regulations meant to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale. From the deck of his 42-foot patrol boat, Endeavor, Whidden has been teaching lobstermen about new kinds of gear thought to be safer for whales.

Whidden says his relationships with fishermen are key to his success. He and his crew are based out of West Boothbay Harbor, meaning they live and work in the same community as the people they are patrolling. When someone is breaking the rules, he says, fishermen usually know about it before he does. If he has their trust, they’ll tell him what they’ve heard. “Everyone wants everyone to play by the rules,” he says.

Evan Whidden started lobstering as a kid with his father, Clayton Whidden, who owns Whidden Lobster. Clayton thinks his own straight-laced approach to lobstering might have influenced his son’s career path.

Lobstermen don’t keep egg-bearing females they find in their traps, since those lobsters are important to furthering their population. Before they’re tossed back, a lobsterman cuts a notch in the lobster’s tail to let others know they should throw it back even if they don’t see eggs.

Clayton says that when he and Evan pulled up a lobster that looked like it might be notched, he erred on the safe side by cutting a new notch and throwing it back. And when a Marine Patrol officer would come to check their gear or their lobsters, the Whiddens would make sure the rail was clean of mud before the officer boarded. “Evan saw that,” Clayton says.

Now that his son is one of those officers, Clayton says he’s heard through the grapevine about the respect Evan is gaining in the fishing industry. According to Clayton, fishermen now reach out to his son for advice about regulations. Clayton says it makes him feel good to know people trust Evan to give them the right answers.

Evan Whidden says he misses lobstering sometimes. He still loves hauling traps. And he loves working on a boat. “I still get to be out on the water and enjoy the nice days,” he says. “And the crappy ones.”

Sam Lemonick is a freelance reporter. He lives in Cundy’s Harbor.