Wire lobster trap inventor to receive honorary degree


BANGOR (AP) – The man credited with inventing the wire lobster trap will receive an honorary degree at the University of Maine commencement on Saturday in recognition of his contributions to Maine’s lobster industry.

Jim Knott, 76, developed the trap as an alternative to the heavy wooden traps in use at the time and first used it in the waters off Gloucester, Mass., in 1957.

The wire trap is now the dominant trap in Maine, where fishermen last year caught 63 million pounds of lobster valued at $290 million. Wooden traps, for the most part, are now used as decorations or glass-topped coffee tables.

Knott is president and CEO of Riverdale Mills Corp., a Northbridge, Mass., company that makes trap-assembly kits for fishermen, along with other welded wire products such as security fencing and erosion-control barriers.

As a youth in Manchester, Mass., Knott fished for lobsters using the old wooden traps that can weigh 125 pounds each when they are hauled out of the water. “That was good for my biceps and I became captain of the wrestling team,” Knott said. “(But) I figured there must be a better way to make a trap.”

The inspiration to build traps out of heavy wire mesh came years later when he started a company in South Natick, Mass., called Coatings Engineering Corp. The company made products such as plastic stethoscope tubes and backyard fencing, and he got the idea for the lobster traps while coating fencing with weather-resistant plastic.

So he made a standard trap out of wire, placed it in the water off Gloucester and, sure enough, it worked.

But it wasn’t so easy getting fishermen to try it. He eventually persuaded a Massachusetts fisherman to use it, and got a mixed response when he asked how it was working.

“He said, It’s no good. Can you get me some more?”‘ Knott said.

It took 20 years for his invention to be accepted in the fishing community, but it is now credited with transforming the lobster industry.

The wire trap weighs about one third as much as a wooden trap when it is hauled out of the water, but underwater its lower degree of buoyancy makes it three times heavier, Knott said, giving it more stability.

Wire traps sink into place faster when they are set and are more durable than wooden traps.

Bob Bayer, executive director of the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, said that his organization nominated Knott for the honor.

Aside from a few places in Atlantic Canada, Bayer said he doesn’t know of any areas in the Northeast where wire traps are not widely used.

“I haven’t seen a wooden trap in Maine in ages,” Bayer said. “The technical changes that his invention has brought to Maine and to the entire region are significant. It changed the way of life for a lot of people.”

University of Maine President Robert Kennedy said Knott is receiving the honorary Doctor of Science degree for his innovative spirit, perseverance and positive leadership over the course of his professional life.

“Jim Knott embodies the best characteristics of those we recognize with this great honor,” Kennedy said in a statement. “He has accomplished much throughout an interesting career. Through hard work and ingenuity, Jim has turned his ideas into realities that have made a substantial difference in the lives of many people.”

On the Net:

The Lobster Institute: www.lobsterinstitute.org

Information from: Bangor Daily News, http://www.bangornews.com