A lobster trap has a rough life. Tossed off the side of a lobster boat, bounced around on the bottom by currents and tide, fetched up against rocks, the average lobster trap faces a difficult time on the seafloor before it’s hauled up again. Add to that sinking groundlines that hang down and weaker endlines and it’s no wonder some traps never make it back to the surface. Once the trap is separated from its buoy, it’s lost to its lobsterman.
There are a lot of lost lobster traps along the Maine coast. Campbell “Buzz” Scott wants to find them.
Scott lived on Matinicus Island throughout his childhood and young adulthood. He fished from the island for 17 years. “I loved it. I seined, scalloped, lobstered, everything but longlining. That was when you could move around within different fisheries and make a decent living doing so,” he recalled.
Scott knows lobstermen and understands their strong conservation ethic. “They care about the ocean, it’s their livelihood,” he said emphatically. So he is tracking the lost lobster traps down and bringing them to shore, where some are reclaimed by their owners and others are recycled, turning encrusted wire and battered hog rings into something of value. He is also developing local sites along the coast where fishermen can deposit retired and unwanted traps. At these sites the traps are processed, useful materials are separated from the traps and repurposed.
Scott founded the nonprofit organization OceansWide in the early 2000s with the aim of educating young people about the ocean through immersing them in it, specifically through diving and running Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) underwater. OceansWide students learn Basic and Advanced diving skills over time and use those skills to explore specific marine environments.
In 2017 students diving in Winter Harbor, Islesford and Stonington commented to Scott about all the lost traps left on the bottom and their effect on the seafloor. “They said we should get them out of there. That made sense to me,” Scott said. Never one to dawdle when a good idea presents itself, Scott quickly found a heavy-duty log splitter for sale. He purchased some 3/8-inch steel plates, had them welded to the splitter and a lobster trap crusher was born.
He then teamed up with Rowlands Recycling in Steuben which agreed to purchase the metal. “Rowlands gives us a heck of a deal knowing that we have the kids from Sullivan [Sumner Memorial High School] crush the traps and in exchange we teach them to dive. If you learn to dive and learn to do it right you can go out and get a job, you can do good stuff with those skills,” Scott said.
Thus far Scott and his team have hauled traps from Boothbay Harbor for two summers and also from Gouldsboro. About 20% of the traps brought to shore are still usable. The local Marine Patrol Officer provides Scott a list of trap tag holders and he contacts lobstermen to let them know their traps are on land. “They are generally happy to find out because the traps cost so much and because of supply chain issues they are difficult to buy right now,” Scott said.
To date OceansWide has processed overall 307,000 pounds of traps, of which 111,485 came from the seafloor, according to Scott. The organization now has three trap crushers and two acres of property in Gouldsboro, rented for a $1 per year from the town, on which to crush the traps.
This year the OceansWide team plans to be on Matinicus Island, invited by the island’s lobstermen. “Lobstermen don’t want to harm the environment, it’s their livelihood. The guys out there want us to get rid of the old traps on land and the ones underwater. We will have to take the crusher out there in a trailer on the ferry because it’s so large,” he added.
Scott has been negotiating with Matinicus lobsterman Tad Miller on purchasing Miller’s wharf. The wharf would give OceansWide a place to station the trap crusher and other equipment to process the traps and store the flattened metal afterward, before transporting it to the mainland to be recycled.
“We would have shared use of the wharf,” Miller explained. “I’m getting too old to take care of everything. And I like what’s he’s doing. There’s a fair amount of support for it because there are junk traps all over the island.”
In the future, the wharf might also be home for a rebuilt Pauline, a famous sardine carrier donated to OceansWide by the late Harlan Billings of Billings Diesel in Stonington. Scott currently is raising funds to finish restoring Pauline with plans to use the vessel as a platform for the organization’s ROV programs and other programs.
As a youngster on Matinicus, Scott developed a deep admiration for the island’s fishermen. “I saw all these guys going out every day. At 10, my mother got me a peapod and I had 25 wooden traps. The fishermen said ‘OK’, and off I went,” he said. Later, as a young man, he went fishing with whomever wanted him. “All the fishermen would take me because I was willing to work. They really made me what I am today.”
He recalled Matinicus store owner Clayton Young as a mentor. “He said I should get off island and see the rest of the world to appreciate Maine. Then come back and do good things.”