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Photo: David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Sean Martell uses a magnet for fishing. He may not find treasure, but he’ll find something interesting — and help clean up the river.

My ten-year-old grandson loves to fish in Rhode Island, but at home in Massachusetts, when he tries the creek near his house, he’s more likely to find a license plate than a fish. So I thought he should try magnet fishing. Just nowhere near a former military base like the one in today’s story.

David Abel writes at the Boston Globe, “On a hot July afternoon, Arthur Flynn III was on a kayak when he dropped a large magnet attached to a rope into the murk of the Nashua River.

“The 60-year-old from Ayer was floating near Fort Devens when he pulled up an unexpected catch: an MK-2 ‘pineapple’ grenade and a 60mm mortar shell. He was soon met by State Police and a local bomb squad. …

“Flynn’s haul was the result of a peculiar but increasingly popular pastime known as magnet fishing, which mixes an environmental impulse to remove trash with a zeal for seeking sunken treasure.

“But the benefits of removing a range of refuse from rivers, lakes, and other waterways comes with dangers, such as hoisting unexploded ordnance and discarded weapons, or disturbing contaminated sediment and submerged archeological artifacts.

“The idiosyncratic hobby appears to have gotten a boost from the pandemic. … Downtime with his bored 10-year-old grandson was what led Douglas Carvalho this summer to spend about $200 on ropes, carabiners, special gloves, and large magnets, including one that can lift as much as 760 pounds.

“With their new equipment and a cooler packed with snacks, the two have been going to nearby rivers and the local marina, where they attach their ropes to the powerful magnets, drop them in the water, and scour the bottom, waiting for a tug from something metallic.

“They found their new hobby was a lot like actual fishing, but with more intrigue. … They haven’t found anything as exciting as what they saw on YouTube, but they’ve brought up old railroad spikes, fishing lures, and a bolt hinge. …

“While Carvalho and other magnet anglers said they recognize the potential dangers, they insist it’s largely safe and would prefer that the state not regulate their new hobby. But after Flynn’s experience near Fort Devens, state and federal officials, along with some environmental advocates, are raising alarms and calling for regulation. …

“In a letter last month, Carol Keating, an EPA official in Boston, told the Army she was ‘extremely disappointed’ by its ‘continued noncompliance with its responsibilities, [saying] the likelihood of other unexploded munitions in the river poses ‘an imminent threat and substantial endangerment to human health or the environment.’ …

“State environmental officials said the hobby could also threaten archeological sites and removing certain artifacts from such areas may be illegal. …

“Environmental advocates said they had mixed feelings about magnet fishing, which apparently began with boaters using magnets to search the abyss for missing keys.

“ ‘While removing trash from a river is generally a good thing, in some cases, stirring up sediments to get something that’s deeply wedged in the riverbed could be harmful for the aquatic ecosystem,’ said Julia Blatt, executive director of the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance. …

“For Josh Parker, who took up the hobby after his wife and kids bought him a magnet fishing kit on Father’s Day, it’s a public good. …

“ ‘It’s good-minded people cleaning up rivers,’ said Parker, 34, an animal control officer from Brockton.

“He takes his children to the Taunton and Charles rivers. Using magnets that can lift as much as 1,700 pounds, he has pulled up bicycles, shopping carts, and rusty tools. He even pulled up a portion of a safe, but it lacked any loot. … He’s earned a few dollars selling metal he has found to scrap yards, but his motives are mainly environmental, he said.

“ ‘Unlike fishing, we’re not going out looking for something to eat, or a trophy item,’ he said. ‘The main point for me is cleaning the river. It’s like picking up trash along the road.’

“For his friend, Sean Martell, there are other motives. Among them: building an online audience for his growing YouTube Channel, where he posts videos of his spoils.

“[He] took up magnet fishing after the pandemic hit — when he lost jobs repairing cooking equipment. … He gave up fishing, he said, after a sea gull flew off with a mackerel he caught. Now, he only worries about losing magnets.”

More at the Boston Globe.

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