Monday December 02, 2013 | 06:56 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

The US Census Website has a bunch of fascinating figures for just what Maine exports. Electronics, aircraft parts, wood & pulp, lab reagents, potatoes, oil & gas (surprising), sea urchins, and of course lobster.

That last one, lobster, gives in more ways than one.

Lobstering gear from Maine washes up, consistently, an ocean away.

In County Kerry, Ireland:

(2005 trap tag from Maine lobster trap, washed up Spring 2012)

Elsewhere in Ireland:

(Lobster trap buoy, traced back to a lobsterman in Vinalhaven)

The Welsh coast:

(2007 trap tag washed up in late 2010)

Cornwall, England:

(2009 trap tag traced back to Lubec, Maine)

And even as far afield as Portugal!

(Washed up Summer/Fall 2013: see her great page)

Probably one of the most famous collections of Maine lobstering debris is that of Jane Darke, who lives on Cornwall’s North Coast. Among other lobstering debris, she’s collected thousands of trap tags from lost Canadian & Maine lobster traps.

Maine lobstermen lose some 38,000 traps to the Gulf of Maine each year. A few are recovered, most aren’t. In the past couple of decades that means more than half a million lost traps. Each one coated in vinyl, each one packing plastic trap tags, escape vents, bait bags, bumpers, cleats, webbing. All of which will eventually break free from the rusting skeleton holding them together.

The heavy bits -- the vinyl coating scraps that flake off as the traps rust, all the lobster claw bands that get dumped into the sea -- those stay local.

Those foul our waters and shores.

As does much of the lighter material. But a lot of those light bits -- the buoys, floats, couplings, bumpers, cleats, trap vents, trap tags, bait bags -- they can & do travel far afield. Each is a calling card. They don’t just wash up on Maine beaches, but beaches 3 or 4,000 miles away.

In a plastic age, the effects of one industry in one small part of the world don’t stay local. Plastic industrial debris: The new export economy.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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