SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine —- Fishermen again are working with a nonprofit group this spring to help recover lost lobster traps from coastal waters.
Last year, fishermen who worked with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation recovered more than 1,000 derelict lobster traps off Jonesport, Mount Desert Island and Stonington. The project, which is funded by a $200,000 grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, is aimed at helping lobstermen and state officials get a better sense of how much so-called “ghost gear” is out there, where it is likely to accumulate, and what kind of effect the lost traps might have on the ocean bottom habitat.
Last week, fishermen and GOMLF officials spent two days searching for and recovering lost gear in Casco Bay, after having spent two days doing the same thing last month. This week, the effort shifts to the midcoast region and next week the project will move to the waters off Southwest Harbor on MDI. The two-day effort off MDI is funded by donations from the New York Yacht Club, the Northeast Harbor Fleet, and other yacht clubs in the area, according to a press release issued last week by GOMLF.
No one knows for sure how many lobster traps have been lost and are still in the ocean. Maine Department of Marine Resources hands out millions of required trap tags to lobstermen each year, and allows them to replace up to 10 percent of those tags each year because of gear that goes missing. Fishermen say they often make an effort to recover their lost traps, however, because of the value of the lobster that might be in them and the cost of replacing the gear, which can be more than $1,000 for a single multitrap trawl.
Last month, two days of work in Casco yielded nearly 600 traps that had been missing being brought back to shore, according to GOMLF.
To recover the gear, fishermen typically drag a grapple hook off a rope through the water where they think missing traps might be located, hoping to snag part of a line that is still attached to one or more traps lying on the bottom. Usually, fishermen haul their gear by locating marker buoys floating on the water’s surface, but sometimes these buoys become separated from the traps as a result of storms, errant boat propellers or other causes.
Recovered gear is either returned to its owner, as identified by state-issued tags, or recycled, depending on its condition.
GOMLF and state officials have said they have two main objectives for the project, aside from just recovering lost traps. They want to assess the effectiveness of the traps’ mandated escape vents, which are designed to dissolve away over time so that any fish or lobster that ends up inside a missing trap will be able to get out. They also want to examine possibilities for establishing an official way that fishermen can dispose of their old gear on land.
More information on the project is available at www.gomlf.org.