Lobster Trap Cleanup

Posted April 25, 2010, at 7:22 p.m.

Lobster is synonymous with Maine. Abandoned lobster traps sunken offshore and piling up along the shoreline shouldn’t be. That’s why recent lobster trap cleanups are to be applauded — and expanded.

Recently, lobstermen and others, under the auspices of the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, hauled so-called “ghost traps” — traps that have broken from their line but remain in the ocean — from the waters off Mount Desert Island. About 400 traps were recovered during the two-day effort. The group then moved to Stonington to continue its work.

In addition to removing the traps from the water so they don’t continue to catch lobster or get tangled in working gear, the foundation wants to better understand what happens with traps lost in the ocean. The traps still can catch lobster and perhaps other sea creatures, thereby posing a threat to the underwater habitat. The hope is to learn how long the traps remain intact and whether lobster escape hatches work.

Extending the trap cleanup to land, as some groups have done on a small scale, is a logical next step.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources estimates that 160,000 traps were lost in 2007 alone. In addition to cluttering up the coast, this costs lobstermen a lot of money. Each trap is valued at about $75.

Last spring, dozens of volunteers from across Maine joined lobstermen in removing more than 200 derelict traps from the shore of Bar Island in Muscongus Bay near Damariscotta. The Maine Island Trail Association, which sponsored the cleanup, says damaged gear that washes up on picturesque shorelines has become an intractable problem.

State law restricts removal of the gear, so fishermen have a chance to recover their lost property. However, they must understand that leaving it lying on the shore detracts from property owners’ and visitors’ enjoyment of Maine’s coast and islands.

Before the Bar Island cleanup, kayakers paddled to the island to record tag numbers for the damaged traps. Maine Marine Patrol officers posted the trap numbers at local lobster co-ops so that fishermen could retrieve any traps they wanted to salvage.

Although salvaging traps is time-consuming, expecting volunteer paddlers to do the work of locating traps and relaying information about their whereabouts is not an effective way to solve this problem either.

Extending trap cleanup efforts to retrieve those that have washed up on the coast will help ensure the lobster industry’s reputation as a good steward of Maine’s coast.

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