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    Thar She Upcycles!

    Posted on September 14, 2011 by admin

    Hipcycle is pleased to have guest blogger Michael Conathan this week:

    Back in the 19th century, intrepid New Englanders braved frigid treacherous seas and spent years of their lives at sea hunting the abundant whales. Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts had a law on the books preventing wardens from feeding lobster to prisoners more than twice a week because it was considered cruel and unusual punishment.

    Times change.

    Today, the north Atlantic right whale is among the most endangered species on the planet, with fewer than 500 individuals remaining, while in Maine, the $300 million lobster industry is king, and you can basically walk across the water on lobster buoys from Kittery to Lubec.

    Lobster Trap

    Lobster trap diagram courtesy of bucksharbor.com

    While those colorful, pleasant bobbers make for spiffy postcards, every one marks the spot of up to a dozen individual lobster pots on the ocean floor. Until recently, every one of those pots was connected to its mates with a long loop of rope that floated up into the water column to keep it from getting caught on Maine’s rocky seabed. While sparing lobstermen the danger of “hang-downs” that can capsize a boat if the line got caught on an undersea bolder or rock shelf while being hauled back, all this float rope was ripe to entangle endangered whales diving down for their own supper.

    In 2009, new rules took effect that banned fishermen from using floating rope to connect their traps in nearly the entirety of the Gulf of Maine. Good for the whales, but bad for the lobstermen who had to pony up as much as $15,000 each to buy new rope. And bad for the environment, as synthetic rope made to withstand the rigorous undersea conditions was not going to degrade rapidly in Maine’s landfills or burn cleanly in its incinerators.

    Float Rope and Mats

    Doormats Made of Flat Rope

    Enter the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, which  with the help of Maine’s Congressional delegation, set up a federally-funded rope exchange program allowing fishermen to swap their floating rope for vouchers to buy the new, legal, sinking kind. Suddenly, the Foundation found itself drowning in rope. More than two million pounds of it to be exact.


    So what to do with all that used line? It turns out barnacles make great boot scrapers. The Foundation and its partners have taken several hundred thousand pounds of now illegal float rope and turned it into doormats that are already fully element tested and sure to hold up to anything mother nature can throw at them. No matter how bad the storm gets, this rope has seen worse in Maine’s briny deep.

    The classic upcycle: Save the whales, save the lobstermen, save your carpets. Win, win, win.

    Michael Conathan is Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress, and scrapes his boots on a float rope doormat every night. You can get your own float rope doormat on Hipcycle starting October 1.

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