GOULDSBORO — Campbell “Buzz” Scott, founder and executive director of OceansWide, a nonprofit education foundation based in Newcastle, estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of lobster traps accumulating every year along the sea floor and along the coast of Maine.
Now OceansWide, along with the students in the Pathways program at Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan, is planning to begin collecting some of these traps and disposing of them in an environmentally responsible way.
“Every time we would go diving, we would find traps,” said Scott, referring to OceansWide’s program of teaching scuba diving to students, including those at Sumner. “And the kids would keep coming to me and saying, ‘We should do something about this.’
“So we’re hoping to work with the Pathways kids at Sumner, with some students at George Stevens Academy and hopefully get some other schools involved in this all up and down the coast.”
This upcoming year, it’s going to start in Gouldsboro, where OceansWide was recently approved to use a 2-acre plot at the town’s waste transfer station to set up its operation.
There, OceansWide and the students it works with will collect old or abandoned lobster traps, both by finding them while diving and accepting old traps from fishermen, then breaking them down to be sold as scrap metal.
Traps to Treasure plans to accept old or broken traps from fishermen in the area, who receive a $2 tax write-off for every trap donated.
“What we’ll do is take the trap, cut the bricks out, remove the runners and the nets, and then crush the trap down to size,” Scott said.
The money from selling the scrap metal and other component elements will help fund OceansWide, which provides opportunities for students to learn about marine science.
Scott himself began fishing in Maine when he was 10 years old on Matinicus Island. After 17 years as a fisherman, Scott worked for the U.S. Antarctic Program and learned to pilot remotely operated submersibles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
While wooden lobster traps may have been prevalent when Scott got his start as a fisherman, the plastic-coated metal versions used today do not decompose or become driftwood when lost at sea.
“We have about 4,500 fishermen on the coast of Maine fishing 800 traps. There are about 7,500 fishing smaller numbers,” Scott said. “They lose, on average 10 percent of their traps every year. So if you do the math, just those 4,500 fishermen, that’s 360,000 traps per year.”
“And that’s just fishing,” added Paul Savoy, a program coordinator and dive-master with OceansWide. “That doesn’t include old or broken traps sitting in people’s yards.
“Until now there hasn’t been a mechanism to get rid of these traps when they become obsolete, because you can’t recycle them, you can’t just put them in the trash. This helps create a waste stream that is sustainable and makes sense.”
The idea to bring the program to Gouldsboro first came from a local resident, Becky O’Keefe.
“My husband is a fisherman,” O’Keefe said. “And I noticed a lot of fishermen starting to bring their traps to the transfer station. A friend of mine who knew Buzz told me about his idea to take the traps and process them and turn them back into supporting their program of educating the children in the Pathways program.”
From there a proposal was put forward to allow OceansWide access to the Gouldsboro transfer station.
“The town of Gouldsboro has been so supportive,” Scott said. “Everybody wants to help out the kids in the Pathways program. And with what we’re doing here, we’re teaching the kids about business, which is something they are going to need to know about in the changing marine industry.”
Savoy and Scott said the goal is to eventually have a mobile trailer that can move up and down the coast to collect 5,000 to 6,000 traps at a time. For now, the goal is to get the Gouldsboro location open and ready to begin accepting traps in the spring.