Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, June 8, 2023
Coast Guard investigating fishing fatality
Scant details on Thomas Ciomei’s death
In keeping with the island’s longstanding tradition, friends, family and fellow fishermen help remove Thomas Ciomei’s 600 traps. They were trailered and taken to Sedgwick where Ciomei kept them in the offseason.
by Jack Beaudoin
A fishing accident has once again claimed the life of a Stonington lobsterman. Authorities say Thomas Ciomei, 58, died Friday, June 2, after entering the water east of Isle au Haut. According to Stonington Assistant Harbormaster Dana Webb, Not Enough, Ciomei’s Duffy 35, was found by fellow fisherman Lawrence Bray III about three-quarters of a mile away on Way Ledge, also known as White Ledge.
Webb cautioned that much of the information he had was secondhand and subject to correction. Like others in the tight-knit community of fishermen, he was hoping for answers about the cause of the accident.
“Nobody knows what happened because he was alone,” Webb explained. “He had an inflatable life vest on and he had removed his boots. I think he might have been in the water a long time.”
Ciomei’s half-brother, Glen Dunham, who fished with Ciomei until two years ago, confirmed those details. He felt that they indicated Ciomei was trying to swim to safety.
“It’s a terrible thing,” Dunham said. “And we all know the risks we take when we go out.”
The University of Maine’s weather buoy in West Penobscot Bay (west of Vinalhaven) reported that the water temperature was 50°F on the afternoon of June 2. At that temperature, a person can become exhausted or unconscious after as little as 30-60 minutes, according to the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant program website.
According to his obituary, Ciomei was a “very experienced, lifelong lobsterman, scallop fisherman and eeler” who spent most days on his boat.
“Always had a good time on the boat,” Dunham recalled. “Always upbeat, never hurt anyone. Salt of the earth, plain and simple.”
Other details remain hard to come by. Jeff Nichols, communications director for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, referred all questions to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is leading the investigation. Lt. Brett Igo of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Detachment in Belfast confirmed his office had begun its investigation, but had nothing to share yet. He directed questions to the Coast Guard’s public affairs office in South Portland.
Tragedy strikes twice
The circumstances around Ciomei’s death that are known mirror those of his brother’s, Wayne “Butch” Ciomei, who died in a similar fishing accident in May of 2018. In that incident, Butch Ciomei got tangled up in his fishing line and his boat, the 36-foot Chelsea Lynn, went aground on a ledge just south of Swan’s Island and west of Marshall Island. His two sons were the first to find him after alerting the Maine Marine Patrol that he was missing.
“It happened five years ago and we still don’t have any answers about what happened,” said Chelsea Torrey, Butch Ciomei’s daughter and Tom Ciomei’s niece. She said that following her father’s death, Tom stepped up and took the family under his wing.
“It doesn’t feel real—it’s devastating,” Torrey said. “I can’t believe this has happened twice within one family.”
On June 7, Torrey and other members of Ciomei’s extended family were at the Stonington Lobster Co-op #1 on Indian Point Road as lobster boats topped off with Ciomei’s traps queued up to unload. “It’s all about community here,” she said as her husband Tyler, her brothers, cousins and family friends moved the traps from the boats onto waiting trailers. Torrey said Ciomei had about 600 traps in the water at this point.
The mood was somber but straightforward.
“Whenever someone gets sick, or something like this happens, the community gets together pretty quick,” said Johnson Boyce.
“They always come out for their own,” said Dunham.