The Long, Sad Life of Lost Fishing Gear

A reader submitted this photo of sea debris he found in Maine. (Photo courtesy of Harold Johnson.)

There’s a lot of fish in the sea. And if you’re out hunting for those fish, you’re likely to drag up lots of evidence of those who came before you: fragments of plastic nets, smashed up lobster pots, and miles and miles of rope, fishing line, and other marine debris. In short, there’s a lot of trash in the sea, too. And a lot of it continues to catch and kill fish, sea birds, and marine mammals like whales, seals, and dolphins. (Read the whole story in this month’s issue.)

These days, due to the terrific staying power of plastic and vinyl-coated metal, things can stay in the for a very long time, being worked into ever smaller bits by solar degradation and the pounding of waves. The resulting fragments never go away, however. Reader Harold Johnson, who maintains a website named The Flotsam Diaries, recently sent in a picture of marine debris he found while beach combing in Maine last week. Here’s what he found.

As the steel rusts & bubbles out, the vinyl cracks & breaks. Each pot can release up to 1,000 vinyl flecks. The photo on this link shows 277 little vinyl flecks from lobster traps that I found in a 25ft x 4ft stretch of wrack at a local cove in Biddeford, Maine, last week

That’s a lot of vinyl shards for one very small sliver of beach. That poses a risk to barefooted beach-walkers, but it’s potentially deadly to sea birds, fish, and crustaceans that mistake the oblong little bits for food. There’s a lot of junk out there — in varying stage of decomposition — so make sure to wear shoes.