An effort by Cornell Cooperative Extension to remove abandoned lobster traps from Long Island Sound continue in Oyster Bay. Some of these traps, also known as “ghost traps,” are approximately 20 years old. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez; file footage

The rope became taut, putting a drag on the fishing boat in Long Island Sound north of Oyster Bay Harbor. Scott Curatolo-Wagemann hoped that on that July day, he had a catch that was more than a year in the making.

“You’ll feel the resistance, the boat will kind of slow down a bit,” Curatolo-Wagemann, fisheries director at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County said in an interview. “As soon as we feel it slow down, we’ll start hauling the grapple system back in.”

The mechanical hauling system on the Spirit, a boat helmed by licensed lobsterman Bob Harrington, began to wind up 400 feet of rope punctuated every 50 feet by grappling hooks about the size of large soda bottles.

“Hopefully it catches onto something,” Curatolo-Wagemann said.

Success that day came in a haul of about half a dozen muck-encrusted metal and wood traps  pulled up from the floor of Long Island Sound 60 to 100 feet below the surface of the water.

The lobster traps, also called pots, were lost or abandoned by their owners. On the bottom of the sound these so-called “ghost traps” continue to catch and kill marine life that never reaches a dinner table. “It becomes bait for some other fish,” which attracts other marine life that then gets trapped, Curatolo-Wagemann said.

When the Spirit pulled into the docks at the Waterfront Center in Oyster Bay yesterday, it brought 19 more traps, bringing the count from six boat trips — out of a planned 20 — up to 96 traps retrieved so far, he said. Some of the recovered traps contain live marine life, including lobsters, that are then released into the water, he said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County has been removing ghost traps in Long Island Sound for more than a decade but this project, which began removing traps off the northern coasts of the towns of Oyster Bay and Huntington on July 13 is its first such effort in Nassau County. The current project is funded by a $115,841 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The project began with side-scan sonar images of the sea floor made at the behest of Friends of the Bay, an environmental nonprofit.

Heather Johnson, executive director of Friends of the Bay, said derelict traps are trash that should be removed.

“One of the ways we work to protect the estuary is by clearing marine debris,” Johnson said, referring to Oyster Bay Harbor. “It’s one thing if it [a trap] belongs to somebody and is serving a purpose but if it’s just abandoned there and also trapping wildlife, then that’s not right.”

The sonar scans allowed Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to identify and locate hundreds of suspected ghost traps and focus on three areas with large concentrations. The project had been slated to begin last year, but delays, including finding a licensed local lobsterman in the area, pushed it back to this year. The mass die-off of lobsters in 1999 in Long Island Sound has left few fishermen today with lobster permits but the project found one who agreed to work with them.

The collected traps are handed off to Oyster Bay. When the owners of the traps are identified, they can get them back.

“If they are not retrieved, we recycle them,” Oyster Bay Town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in an email.

Ghost lobster traps 

  • Since 2010, various efforts have recovered 19,000 derelict from New York waters in Long Island Sound 
  • 20% of recovered derelict lobster traps contained one or more lobsters of which 4% were dead 
  • Recovered traps are recycled or returned to their owners 

SOURCE: Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

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