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The Less Bleach, The Better

Every lobsterman wants to have a clean boat. A clean boat means that you are less likely to slip on some noxious gurry, have your bilge back up, or find your topsides covered in seagull excrement. Lobstermen and their crew typically spend a good amount of time cleaning the vessel at the end of a long day at sea, getting her ready for the next trip. Using straight bleach to clean the boat, however, is not a great idea, according to Pam Parker, water enforcement manager at the Department of Environmental Protection. “We got a call from a woman who watched a lobsterman just pour bleach from a bottle across the deck,” Parker said. She wondered what the lobsterman’s purpose was since bleach is not effective in getting rid of the grease of oily bait bags.

Chlorine bleach is a strong disinfectant, known to kill bacteria and a multitude of other living things. In high concentrations the chemical is toxic to marine organisms, particularly juveniles. Bleach can burn the gills of mature fish and cause cell breakdown in other parts of the body. Furthermore, it can combine with other seawater chemicals to form additional, long-lasting compounds, such as chloromine.

“Bleach can go into the intertidal area which is where the baby lobsters are,” Parker said. “If you have to use it, use it diluted in something like a 1 to 10 ratio.”

A lobster boat will get pretty grubby, but even the most greasy vessel does not need a daily dose of bleach. Buoys and lines coated with seaweed can be dipped in the hot tank to rid them of build-up. The decks can be cleaned with the fishermen’s favorite, Dawn, or other grease-breaking soap.

Beaching the boat periodically to clean the bottom with bleach has been the practice of many fishermen but, Parker says, it’s probably not the best thing for the juvenile creatures that live nearby. “If you’re going to do that, you should have a way of collecting your wastewater,” she said. Even better is to take the boat to a boat yard equipped with a wastewater collection system.

Parker is interested to learn from lobstermen their preferred ways of cleaning the boat. “We don’t know a lobsterman’s job and don’t want to presume we know the best way to do it,” she said. Lobstermen can reach her at pamela.d.parker@maine.gov.

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