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Lobster trap recovery pivotal in Maine

Inside look shows how Coast Guard manages to bring up nearly $15,000 worth of gear in Penobscot Bay

Inside look shows how Coast Guard manages to bring up nearly $15,000 worth of gear in Penobscot Bay

Just like clockwork, the Coast Guard is called upon each spring by local Maine fishermen to do what they can’t — haul massive tangles of lobster traps and gear from the depths of Penobscot Bay.

Early one morning in late-March, as the sun began to rise over western end of the bay, the Coast Guard cutter Abbie Burgess slipped out of its Rockland berth and headed for Two Bush Ledge, about seven miles south of Owls Head.

Working in conjunction with Maine Marine Patrol officers Brian Tolman, Matt Talbot and Wes Dean, and Owls Head lobstermen Scott Herrick and Jeff Woodman, the Abbie Burgess crew set out to help recover what would likely be dozens of lobster traps.

For the lobstermen, recovering the traps, which cost about $80 each to replace, can help the bottom line of their livelihood — especially in this economy.

But every boat captain cruising the area also stands to benefit because once a pile of fouled gear gets started, it grows like seaweed as more and more traps and long lengths of line get caught in the swirling mess.

“It’s not a great place for sea creatures to live because it’s not stable,” said Boatswain’s Mate Cameron Morgan following the ship’s return to port. “It also poses a threat to boat traffic, as captains and crew have no idea that a few visible buoys can actually be as unwieldy as a multi-tentacle sea creature.”

The crew of Abbie Burgess hooked into the first bundle of lobster trap buoys around 8 a.m., starting a long procession of successful trap recoveries that ended well after 4 p.m.

In at least six different locations spread about the waters east of Muscle Ridge, according to Morgan, the deck department of Rockland’s buoy tender hooked into and pulled aboard hundreds of feet of trap line, buoys and traps, all tangled together. The pile often required the use of the ship’s crane to pick up and strew the mess aboard while even more traps and gear hung precariously overhead.

The weight of the tangled traps and line often makes it too dangerous to attempt a haul back aboard a normal fishing vessel, and that’s where the heavy lift capabilities of a buoy tender such as the Abbie Burgess come into play.

Herrick estimated the piles had been accumulating more and more traps and gear over the last four years.

As the Abbie Burgess crew untangled the recovered traps and stacked them on deck, Tolman, Talbot, Dean, Herrick and Woodman recorded each trap’s identification tag, which would help sort out what gear belonged to which lobsterman.

After the traps were all stacked on deck and the last lobster trap buoy was pulled and sorted, the final count came to 181 traps recovered, which Morgan deemed “astonishing.”

“At $80 a trap, that’s nearly $15,000 in recovered gear,” he said.

Back on shore at Station Rockland’s Tillson Avenue dock, the Maine Marine Patrol had a pickup truck and trailer waiting for the ship’s return, after which the recovered traps would be loaded up and their owners would be notified.

“With the tags, we’ll know who each one belongs to and since they’ll all belong to fishermen from our area, we’ll know everybody whose traps we find,” said Herrick. “Most will belong to either Ship to Shore Lobster or Owls Head Lobster.”

In the meantime, the recovered gear was stored in Rockland at the former Maine Department of Transportation garage.

Holly S. Anderson is a senior reporter for and the Knox County Times.