Metro

Authorities crack down on drug use aboard fishing vessels

Fishing boats and the schooner Lady Maryland (left) at Steamship Pier in New Bedford Harbor in 2012.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File
Fishing boats and the schooner Lady Maryland (left) at Steamship Pier in New Bedford Harbor in 2012.

The fight against drug addiction took a new direction this week when Massachusetts Environmental Police and New Bedford police boarded fishing vessels in New Bedford Harbor, searching for fishermen carrying illegal drugs for personal use.

“Commercial fishing is a dangerous enough job as it is,’’ said Environmental Police Major Patrick J. Moran. “Using drugs makes it even more dangerous. Our intention was to stop the drugs from getting out to sea aboard the fishing vessels.’’

Over two days, four law enforcement vessels stopped 11 fishing boats heading out of the harbor, leading to arrests of at least six people on drug possession charges and of two people on outstanding warrants, officials said.

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“We are trying to make a difference where we can,’’ said Moran.

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The federal Department of Homeland Security assisted in the operation.

New Bedford Police Sergeant Jason C. Gomes said those arrested were directed into drug courts because the goal of the interdiction effort was not imprisonment.

“The goal is to prevent some of the overdoses and hopefully save lives,’’ said Gomes, commander of the department’s Port Security Unit. “The ultimate goal, our hope, is that we could do one of these [interdiction] efforts and not find any drugs in any fishing boats underway.’’

Moran and Gomes said their effort was backed by owners of the fishing vessels, some of whom have approached Moran and asked for his department to get involved with drug abuse on fishing boats.

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Gomes said he knows many fishermen and captains who have also urged local police to get involved.

In the planning meetings for the effort, the law enforcement officials said they met with staffers from the office of Bristol District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III and reached an agreement that anyone taken into custody would be pushed toward help.

“Our intention was not to go out and arrest a bunch of people,’’ Moran said. “The people that we did arrest — we wanted to get help for them.’’

Gomes said he was driven to act because of his concern for the fishing industry overall, which, he said, is the economic engine for New Bedford. “I have a job because of the fishing industry. I have close friends that are fishermen. And these are probably the hardest-working blue-collar guys in the community,’’ he said. “The captains were very, very pleased about what we were doing.’’

Moran’s jurisdiction as a coastal commander for the Environmental Police stretches from Gloucester on the North Shore to the outermost tips of Cape Cod and the Islands.

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From his perspective, the discovery of heroin on a handful of vessels in New Bedford indicates that the issue is an industry-wide concern.

“It’s not just a New Bedford problem,’’ he said. “It’s a statewide problem.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.
com
. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.