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Missing Some Maine Lobster Gear? Check out Jane Darke's Yard - in Britain
01/29/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

Jane Darke is an artist, a film-maker and a beachcomber. She lives on the rugged north coast of Cornwall - right at the southwest tip of the British Isles.  You might not think the coast of North America is about 4,000 miles away when you see the preponderance of commercial fishing debris that washes ashore here - much of it courtesy of the New England and Canadian lobster fishery.  Tom Porter has more.

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Missing Some Maine Lobster Gear? Check out Jane Da Listen
 Duration:
3:57

debris 6

Jane Darke in her debris-filled yard in Cornwall, in the British Isles.

During a recent trip back to England, I paid a visit to Jane Darke and was immediately struck by the sheer volume of stuff she has in her yard and her house: Lobster buoys are piled high inside and out, and there are also bits of traps and of course, many many tags.

debris 7"Countless, thousands," she says. "Just here we've got this box which is full of lobster tags (left), and everyone of those is from Canada, Newfoundland, Maine, Massachusetts. And I think there must be about 2,000 tags in there that have escaped from lobster pots or been thrown away by fishermen."

She pulls out one of the tags and examines it.

Jane Darke: "This actually tells you it's from Maine, it's a white tag, about six-inches long, which would have been fixed to the metal of a lobster pot. It's got the serial number, which would have been allocated to a fisherman."

Tom Porter: "Zone D."

Jane Darke: "Z-D, which is the fishing zone it would have been placed in. And then it's ME for Maine and 97, so this was used in '97, that year."

debris 8From another pile, Darke produces the gate of a lobster trap which has a familiar sounding name printed on it.

Tom Porter: "Friendship ... Company."

Jane Darke: "Trap Company."

Tom Porter: "So that could well be from mid-coast Maine, there's a town there called Friendship."

Jane Darke: "Yeah."

And in fact Friendship Maine is indeed home to a business called the Friendship Trap Company, which according to its website has been producing traps 'built to last' since 1977.

But it's not just fishing gear that washes up. Among other things Darke has dragged home: driftwood, packets of emergency drinking water - U.S. Coast Guard issue - cigarette lighters from container ships, a big oceanographic weather buoy made in Massachusetts, a Canadian street hockey puck and a road sign which she traced back to Newfoundland - where it fell from a bridge into the ocean several years ago.

debris 2Jane Darke has been an obsessive beachcomber for about 20 years now. She was introduced to it by her late husband, the playwright Nick Darke, who was born in the house where she still lives. She doesn't have to go far to indulge her passion: She leads me from her backyard down a path through some sand dunes.

Tom Porter: "So the back of your house leads directly down to the beach, which is pretty helpful."

We emerge onto a big sandy beach - one of several in this part of Cornwall. They make an ideal repository for cst-off debris from the Northeast Atlantic, thanks to the Gulf Stream, which flows up from Florida along the Atlantic coast to Newfoundland. From there, a current called the North Atlantic Drift crosses the Atlantic to Europe.

debris 4"The best beaches are the west-facing beaches, and you can't find stuff all the time," Darke says. "Really, you have to have had a gale blowing for three days and three nights nonstop from a westerly direction - so southwest up to northwest."

It's low-tide when we comb the beach - a good time you may think for finding what the ocean has churned up from afar. Not so, says Darke: The best time is high tide - very high tide, in fact.

"You get two high tides every month," she says. "And so it needs to be building up to those two high tides with the sea pushing everything in onto the shore. And then the best time to check is straight after the high tide, as the sea's falling back again - before anybody else gets there."

Tom Porter: "Why do you keep doing it?"

Jane Darke: "You never know what you're going to find. It's like looking for treasure. All these little surprises. And tracing them back to where they've come from is always fun. Every tide is different, and when you get out on the beach the weather is different, the sea is different, even the beach can be different with the sand moving around."

On this day there was no treasure to be found on the beach, just a few candy wrappers and a couple of shotgun cartridges, which Darke chose to pass over. And that's probably a good thing, because Jane Darke has precious little space left at her house.

Photos by Tom Porter.




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