Water on the Long Island Sound.

Water on the Long Island Sound. Credit: File

In a continuing effort to restore the ecological health of the Long Island Sound, a coalition of federal, state and local agencies has teamed up to fund a project that will pay local fishermen to pull up thousands of lobster pots abandoned along the water's floor.

Two grants totaling $254,282 from the Fishing for Energy Fund and Long Island Sound Futures Fund will pay about 45 area lobstermen daily stipends to pull up the pots, many left there for decades. Parts will be recycled, and the rest will be taken to Covanta Energy's Hempstead plant, where the waste will be converted into renewable energy.

About 118 metric tons of marine debris is expected to be removed from the Sound.

Derelict fishing gear such as lobster pots and their lines are to blame for "ghost fishing," or continuing to entangle marine life long after being abandoned.

State law permits only the owner of a lobster pot to remove it from its place, but the Department of Environmental Conservation is allowing removal as part of the project, as long as each pot is identified through tags and an attempt is made to contact the owners, said John Scotti, senior fishery specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, which is heading the effort.

The work will begin near Northport, Mount Sinai, Mattituck and Oyster Bay.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and a representative from the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) attended Tuesday's news conference in Mattituck to announce the project.

Lobster fishing in the Long Island Sound was once such big business that it surpassed Maine waters for more lobsters per square mile, said George Doll, Northport's mayor and a fisherman. In the late 1990s, for reasons unknown, area lobster fishing diminished considerably.

Northport was a pilot site for the project last year, and 2,300 pots were recovered in less than two months. Doll said 20 percent contained live lobsters.

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