Lobster is synonymous with Maine. Abandoned lobster traps piling up along the shoreline shouldn’t be. Fortunately, lobstermen and other groups have teamed to collect derelict traps. Removing the traps, thousands of which lie abandoned from Kittery to Calais, sends a message that the state’s scenic coastline is valued and that lobstermen’s conservation ethic extends beyond the crustaceans they catch.
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.
Earlier this year, the State Planning Office proposed to use $2.3 million in federal stimulus money for an 18-month project to retrieve lost lobster traps from the ocean. The traps, the office said, can still catch lobster and perhaps other sea creatures, thereby posing a threat to the underwater habitat. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rejected the proposal.
If the state makes another attempt, it should include extending this work to land.
This spring, dozens of volunteers from across Maine joined lobstermen in the removal of more than 200 derelict traps from the shore of Bar Island in Muscongus Bay near Damariscotta. The Maine Island Trail Association, which sponsored the Saturday 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 isn’t an effective way to solve this problem either.
According to the state’s proposal to NOAA, up to 420 lobstermen would have been employed, for a few days at a time, to retrieve lost gear. Damaged traps would be recycled and usable traps put back in service.
Extending such a program to retrieved traps washed up on the coast will only increase the benefits. With or without federal funding, this cleanup needs to continue.