Lobster Trap Tags from Ryan Morris Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia

Dear Joey,

I’ve been looking around the internet for more information about the small, rectangular lobster trap tags that I’ve been finding on the beach and found a few interesting articles on Good Morning Gloucester about tags that have been found all the way across the Atlantic in England. I’m not nearly so far away, just up the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia’s Advocate Harbour, but have become something of a hunter for these unusual little pieces of drift. In the past few years I’ve amassed a collection of 118 tags. It’s been interesting learning what these (to me) unusual orange rectangles are and tracing where some of them are from. Tags with phone numbers can be traced to other harbours in Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, and a great many in Maine. I thought I’d write to thank you for sharing your articles and show you a bit of what I’ve found here in Eastern Canada.

The harbour here in Advocate is perhaps a kilometer or so long and a kilometer or two wide. The village faces southward with high capes of land to the east and west. A long, narrow spit of sand and driftwood stretches out like a finger along the south end of the harbour with a narrow channel for fishing boats to enter and exit when the tide is high. This outer beach (the ‘Big Beach’ in local parlance) shelters our community a bit and is a wonderful place to beachcomb. I haven’t the smarts to explain why, but some combination of tides and currents and other bits of geography work in tandem filling our shore with driftwood and detritus. Beaches only a kilometer or two away don’t catch a fraction of what washes in here. It can be both a sad sight and a fascinating one. A walk on our beach will yield miles of rope that the sea has snagged into Gordian knots, bits of lobster traps, boots, buckets, lost toys, sporting equipment, and pieces of plastic broken into small and now unknowable bits. I first noticed one of these lobster tags a few summers ago. I was struck, I suppose, by the fact that it had an owner’s name stamped so plainly and deliberately in it and that it was not a broken piece of something, like so much that one finds in the drift.

I think the first tag I found sat on a shelf in the porch for a bit and was then tossed in the rubbish. But when a second and third found me on a beach walk I began to keep them, comparing names and wondering what they could be. By summer’s end I had perhaps two dozen and sufficient curiosity to find out what they were. The warning about theft made me assume they were from lobster traps and then I found two tags with phone numbers I could identify as being from Maine. Area code 207 has since then shown up on empty bait pails, escape hatches for lobster traps, and much else. 

I see fewer of these tags come winter. It may have to do with the seasonal nature of lobster fishing, it may have to do with seasonal changes in wind patterns and intensities. It may also have to do simply with me being outside less when Canadian winter sets in. Annually I wonder if I’ve found all I will find, and each spring I start to see more. I found my first two of the season earlier this week and just this morning a long walk yielded no fewer than seventeen orange tags.   

Two summers ago I opened a box of screws and began mounting my growing collection to a wall in my garage. Everyone who comes in notices them and asks what they are. When I tell them I found all of these here on the beach within walking distance of home they’re taken aback. Everyone says the same thing, shocked that I found all of these under our noses when they’ve never seen one before. It’s a case, I suppose, of needing to see something only once to then start seeing it nearly everywhere. Now neighbours will occasionally see one of these on their beach walks and save it for me. The threat now seems to be running out of wall space before running out of tags.

Thank you for sharing your interesting posts from UK beachcombers. I wonder if any names on these tags might be from your area. I’m always curious to know how far things have traveled, who once owned them, and how long they’ve been at sea before I brought them home. 

Happy beachcombing,

Ryan Morris

Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia

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