Bombs in water lead to lobstering ban

September 15, 2009 1:44:08 PM PDT
A new Coast Guard rule has closed down fishing grounds around a remote Maine island following the discovery of unexploded bombs on the ocean bottom from when the Navy used the rocky outcropping as an aerial bombing range. The Coast Guard put the rule into effect last week. It establishes a safety zone banning mariners from the shallow lobster-rich waters around Seal Island.

The area is potentially dangerous because of munitions recently discovered around the island, said Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall. The U.S. Navy used the island as a bombing range from the 1940s until the early 1960s.

"An urchin diver recently spotted what he described as thousands of shell fragments and shells on the bottom while diving for urchins," Hall said. "Even though we don't have a good handle on what the threat level is, we want to err on the side of caution when it comes to public safety."

The Navy transferred the 65-acre Seal Island in 1972 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the island in cooperation with the National Audubon Society for nesting seabirds, including terns, eiders and puffins.

Lobstermen object to the rule, arguing that traps have been hauled there for decades without any problems. About 30 fishermen tend to hundreds of traps in the waters, located about 20 miles off the mainland in Penobscot Bay.

The island is closed to public access. The waters surrounding the island are listed as a "danger zone" on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration nautical charts.

Lobstermen and other mariners are forbidden to enter the area without permission from Coast Guard officials. The zone extends from the shoreline to the 60-foot depth curve.

The Coast Guard is taking comments on the measure until Dec. 7, after which it will decide what type of permanent rule might be needed.

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