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NORWALK, CT – Thousands of derelict lobster pots in Long Island Sound, abandoned but still functioning to trap marine life, will be removed from Connecticut’s waters through a collaborative project made possible by $569,000 in new federal funding.
The 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Bill recently signed by President Biden includes funds toward reversing the environmental and economic damage being caused by as many as 1 million derelict lobster pots left in the Sound. As a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy championed the funding, with support from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and also Connecticut’s House delegation, including U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, as well as U.S. Rep. Jim Himes who represents the 4th District, home to The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.
The $569,000 supports the creation of a coalition, led by The Maritime Aquarium, of environmental agencies, lobstermen, academics and others that will team to remove an initial 3,000 lobster pots off the Sound floor in two years. This work – along with a decade of similar efforts in New York waters by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, NY. – will establish the framework of best practices and lay the groundwork for an ongoing program to end the Sound’s harmful “ghost fishery.”
Partners with The Maritime Aquarium include Save the Sound and the Long Island Soundkeeper, Project Oceanology in Groton, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. The initiative is supported by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the agency that authorizes third parties to remove derelict pots.
“We thank Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, as well as Chair Rosa DeLauro and the entire Connecticut delegation, for supporting this important initiative, and for their strong and consistent leadership on behalf of a healthy and sustainable Long Island Sound,” said Jason Patlis, President and CEO of The Maritime Aquarium.
“Derelict lobster pots in the Sound continue to take a toll on marine life and negatively impact fisheries for recreational and commercial purposes,” Patlis said. “We’re excited to get to work with our partners in a project that will have direct ecological and economic benefits, and that will create a broader framework representing public-private, industry-conservation collaboration.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy pledged continued support on behalf of the Sound.
“Long Island Sound is Connecticut’s most important economic asset, and the federal funding we secured will help clean up old fishing gear that continues to trap marine life long after it’s been abandoned,” he said. “As a member of the Appropriations committee, I’ll keep working to make sure the Sound is protected for generations to come.”
Similarly, U.S. Richard Blumenthal said, “This federal investment in the Sound will remove derelict traps for marine life to create a healthier ecosystem for the species that remain there. The Long Island Sound is a beloved natural treasure. I am proud that this federal funding will continue the ongoing work toward preserving its ecological vitality, and I will continue to fight for critical investments like these that protect the Long Island Sound’s natural beauty for generations to come.”
U.S. Sen. Rosa DeLauro called Long Island Sound a treasured natural resource for the millions that live along the coast and benefit from its beaches and waters.
“As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, I am proud to have developed Community Project Funding so that we can respond to the needs of communities across Connecticut,” she said. “I am particularly pleased to have included this project in the final federal spending package to remove thousands of derelict lobster pots and improve the health of the Long Island Sound. We must continue to support maritime investments that restore coastal habitats. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Connecticut Delegation to safeguard the Long Island Sound region.”
And U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said, “I am always proud to play a role in securing funds to help preserve and improve the health of the Sound. Our delegation knows that the Sound is vital to the quality of life, economy, and healthy future of Connecticut families. I’m also very grateful for the leadership shown by The Maritime Aquarium in bringing together such a strong coalition to remove these derelict pots.”
DEEP Commissioner Katie Dyke thanked the Connecticut delegation for the appropriation.
“The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is extremely grateful for the work of our Congressional Delegation in securing funding for this important effort to improve the health of Long Island Sound,” Dykes said. “We are particularly excited about the collaborative and inclusive nature of this project, which engages state agencies, academia, non-governmental organizations, and members of the commercial fishing industry as partners in the shared work of protecting the living resources of the Sound.”
As many as 1 million abandoned lobster pots litter the bottom of Long Island Sound. Some were accidentally lost over decades of lobstering, but others were left in the water when the Sound’s $12 million lobster industry crashed in 1999. Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Suffolk County, which has removed 19,000 derelict pots from the New York waters of the Sound since 2011, has found that 91 percent still function. Although those traps are no longer baited and tended, they still can attract lobsters, crabs and fish, which die either from being unable to get out or by being consumed by other fish that enter. Those animals then die in the pots, which attracts other hungry creatures, and the cycle endlessly repeats.
Vanessa Lockel, CCE’s Executive Director, said her New York agency is proud to be part of Connecticut’s efforts.
“For over 10 years, we have been working on this specific issue of marine debris,” Lockel said. “These projects would not be successful without the partnerships we have forged along the way. These partnerships continue to be the backbone of the project's success, starting with the engagement of the commercial fishing industry and state regulatory agencies, and then including local municipalities, metal recyclers, and waste to energy companies. Combining our resources with partners in Connecticut, we can share the lessons we have learned and develop new cross-Sound projects and collaborations.”
Dr. David Hudson, researcher in residence of The Maritime Aquarium, said a recent effort to remove 9 percent of the “ghost” lobster pots from Chesapeake Bay resulted in an increase in fisheries by thousands of metric tons.
“Removing derelict lobster pots will have a positive impact on the populations of such species as tautog, rock crabs, whelk, cunner and sea bass, which are all important to Connecticut fisheries, not to mention the benefit to the few lobsters remaining in the Sound,” Hudson said. “By removing these ghost pots, the ecosystem will be healthier since there will be more forage fish and the system can come more into balance for important recreational fisheries.”
The rubberized coatings on derelict pots also can represent a source of microplastics in the water, Hudson said.
Funds from the Omnibus Appropriations Bill will be used for vessel operations, materials, staff time by the partner organizations, and payments to lobstermen contracted to pull up traps.
“With the collapse of the lobster fishery and the decline of other commercial fisheries in the Sound in recent decades, commercial fishers have struggled,” Patlis said. “This project will provide an opportunity to employ and engage fishers, and benefit from their skills and knowledge.”
Bill Lucey, Long Island Soundkeeper and past commercial harvester, is ready to help coordinate removal trips, research activities and stakeholder workshops with local lobstermen, and facilitate the return of tagged lobster traps to their original owners.
“Save the Sound is looking forward to working with the fishing fleet to start clearing these lost traps and reducing this hazard to marine life,” Lucey said. “In addition to Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, I’d also like to credit State Sen. Craig Miner, who raised the bill back in 2018 that made this all possible.”
Derelict pots will be pulled all up in every coastal county, from Greenwich to New London, during 60 planned outings over the next two years. For each pot brought up, the retrieving crew will look for identifying tags and try to notify the pots’ licensees. Pots that have no marked licensee, and traps not claimed by licensees within 30 days of being notified, will be sent for recycling. (Active pots marked with “trap tags” from the current year or the year prior will be returned to the water where they were found.)
Copps Island Oysters of Norwalk and Indian River Shellfish of Madison/Clinton are the first in the industry committed to helping to retrieve pots. Others will have the opportunity to apply to participate.
J. Andrew Ely, Executive Director of Project Oceanology, also praised the partnership and noted the educational opportunities the work will afford.
"Since 1972, Project Oceanology has been delivering hands-on experiential learning in the maritime environment,” Ely said. “We are proud to collaborate with our partners throughout Long Island Sound to identify and remove derelict lobster pots. There is a strong educational component to this project. We will integrate derelict lobster pot removal and research efforts into both on-the-water and shore-based educational opportunities for students and teachers from our facility in Groton."
In addition, plans include the hiring of a field assistant and creation of an internship program. Emphasis will be placed on building diversity by creating pathways into the marine industry for minority and underrepresented populations.
The Maritime Aquarium was the first organization authorized by Connecticut DEEP to bring up derelict pots under a law approved in 2019 by the Connecticut legislature.
Learn more about the Aquarium’s conservation efforts – and ways to become involved through community-science projects – at www.maritimeaquarium.org/conservation.
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