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Lobstermen Haul up Trash, Protect Habitat

When you think of lobstermen pulling traps out of the water off the coast of Maine, you picture them catching delicious lobster. But recently, lobstermen have been pulling up something far less tasty—empty traps, buoys, and other gear.

These “ghost traps” have broken from the ropes connecting them to the surface and been lost on the ocean floor for months, or even years. It is a type of marine debris that can be an underwater hazard. The gear can trap lobsters and other wildlife with no way to escape, and currents can drag them across the ocean floor, damaging habitat.

That’s why we partnered with the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation to get lobstermen and other volunteers involved in cleaning up these ghost traps. Since 2010, they’ve gone out on several clean-up expeditions. The volunteers also collected gear from shorelines on the Maine coast. While some of the traps are beyond repair, others can be used again. Reusable gear is returned to its owners, or sold at auction; the rest is recycled.

So far, they’ve hauled in 33 tons of traps and other debris. That’s only a small dent in the large amount of debris—the state of Maine estimates that 35,000 traps are lost each year. But, every bit helps.

As part of the program, we’re also helping to teach the lobstermen about the dangers of ghost gear. Projects such as this one encourage them to bring gear— even if it’s old or unusable—to collection sites to be recycled, encouraging them to recover more lost traps in the future.

Posted June 4, 2012

Recovered ghost traps on a lobster boat.
Recovered ghost traps on a lobster boat.