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Lobster fishing area closed after discovery of unexploded bombs in the water

September 17, 2009 | 10:52 am

Gulls looking for bait scraps follow a lobster boat off Maine.

Access has been barred to an area popular with lobster fishermen after the discovery of unexploded munitions on the sea floor.

The U.S. Coast Guard has established a safety zone around Seal Island, located about 20 miles off the coast of Maine, after a recent discovery of unexploded ordnance in the shallow waters surrounding the remote island. The island was used by the U.S. Navy as an aerial bombing range from the 1940s to the 1960s.

"An urchin diver recently spotted what he described as thousands of shell fragments and shells on the bottom," Chief Petty Officer Jeff Hall told the Associated Press. "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."

Lobstermen are upset with the decision to close the area, arguing that traps have been hauled there for decades without any problems.

The interim ruling went into effect last week . The Coast Guard is taking comments on the measure until Dec. 7, after which a decision will be made on what sort of permanent rule might be necessary.

Seal Island is now managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the National Audubon Society and is a national wildlife refuge for nesting seabirds. At least 30 fishermen tend to hundreds of traps in the lobster-rich shallows surrounding the island.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: Gulls looking for bait scraps follow a lobster boat off Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press