Can you spot all of the 35 lobster buoys in this photo?
Early last September, I found myself enjoying boating and fishing in the waters off Stonington and Mystic even more than usual. The oppressive heat of summer had moved on but so had another impediment to relaxation: lobster buoys. Constant scanning of the water is required to avoid them. In choppy waves or sun glare even brightly-colored buoys can be difficult to spot. When high tide pulls them under the water’s surface or the owner has chosen a dark color, avoiding them is as much about luck as it is experience. Why worry about these bobbing hazards? Boaters who fish by drifting with wind and current can easily become entangled in buoy ropes. The lobster pots and attached buoys may legally be placed almost anywhere and some of the best line fishing is in the same rocky areas preferred by lobsters. Strong currents, storms, or boats may drag buoys and pots directly into the heaviest traffic areas.
If a single engine boat runs directly over the buoy, there is a good chance the rope will entangle and abruptly stop the propeller. Careful unwinding of the rope from a stopped motor is tricky and the rope frequently needs to be cut. This happened to me last year and I needed to be towed in. The line wrapped around the propeller shaft 15 times and could only be removed from a life-jacketed “volunteer” bobbing in the water. If the rope must be cut, considerate boaters tie severed pieces together so the lobster fishing gear is not lost. Dual propellers on larger boats tend to cut the rope and destroy the buoy. When that happens, the special sinking rope drops to the ocean floor where more than half of lost pots are unrecovered. Sailboat keels may drag a buoy a few feet before the rope slips off again but motor boats cause and receive most of the damage.
While fishing near the Stonington breakwater recently, I observed various boats traveling directly through groups of lobster buoys. Some at reckless speeds and others demonstrating caution. Why, I wondered, wouldn’t they all take the slight detour around the buoys? Perhaps they haven’t yet experienced the sudden disaster of entanglement.
During the closed season of September 8 through November 28, 2016, all lobster fishing gear must be removed from the water. That reduces but doesn’t eliminate hazards as whelk (conch) pots and fish pots and their smaller buoys may still be in the water. Diligence remains the key to safety. I hope local boaters will continue to avoid the brightly-colored hazards as contact with them can ruin an otherwise beautiful day on the water. The lobstermen appreciate the consideration too.