BERLIN – Annoyed at the start of the pandemic, Constantin Chiteala went with a few friends to a nearby lake, tied a $ 6 magnet to a rope, threw it in the water and pulled out a bicycle.
He has been hooked on magnet fishing ever since.
“We are having a little adventure,” said Mr. Chiteala, 34, “and then we are also doing something for the environment.”
Magnet fishing – using strong magnets to extract metal from bodies of water – has exploded in popularity in Europe. Thanks in part to the YouTube videos posted by enthusiasts, it has become such a craze that it has created a problem: what to do with all the junk they find?
Magnetic fishermen say it’s a win-win: they have fun discovering what lies beneath the surface and they clean up the environment by removing waste from the waterways.
In the United States, where magnet fishing is also growing, the hobby is widely accepted. But in Europe, where devotees occasionally lift unexploded ordnance from WWII out of the water, local officials say magnet fishing is often illegal, a threat to archaeological sites, a source of waste and potentially dangerous.
In Scotland, authorities reached an agreement late last year to open up Edinburgh’s canals to magnetic fishing, with strict safety and waste disposal rules. Other UK waterways are still officially off-limits, although many remain popular magnet fishing holes anyway.
In Berlin, the hobby has become a nuisance for the city’s environmental department, which is responsible for keeping the waterways clean, as many loving fishermen don’t get rid of what they find. Instead, they leave it stacked on the sidewalk next to bridges, where it leaves rust-colored stains on the cement.
“The people who take the waste out of the river and don’t throw it away, they just do more work” for the city crews, said Doron Wohlfeld, of the Berlin environment department. “They do the same amount of work as the people who leave their pizza boxes, cans and bottles… or those who, because they are bored, throw the metal rod of a road sign in the river. .
In fact, cleaning up after a magnet fishing trip is much more difficult than cleaning up after careless picnickers. Metal emerges from the water enclosed in a thick layer of mud – gloves are a necessity. It is often so rusty that a once strong piece of metal, like a pair of pliers, shatters when someone touches it.
Finds can be heavy or too large to fit in a car.
When Mr. Chiteala and his friends started magnet fishing last May, after seeing it on YouTube, they tried cleaning up after themselves.
They brought home the bikes they found. But once half a dozen bikes were crammed onto a friend’s balcony, his girlfriend started complaining that the bikes stank of low tide. The couple have since broken up.
They called grocery stores to tell them they had found stolen shopping carts. The stores didn’t want them to come back.
They tried to bring in some of the other metals they found at the junkyard, but it took hours, paid next to nothing, and left his friend’s old Toyota dirty. “It was too complicated to be worth it,” Chiteala said.
Now, when they find sensitive objects, like a safe or a gun, they call the police. Otherwise, they call the sanitation department and tell them where the garbage is piled up, so they can send a truck.
In the United States, interest in magnetic fishing has also increased during the pandemic, fueled by YouTube and TikTok videos, said Ben Demchak, an archaeologist in Pennsylvania and owner of Kratos Magnetics, an online store for supplies from the United States. magnetic fishing. A high-end fishing magnet – small enough to fit in one hand but with a pulling force of thousands of pounds – will set you back over $ 250.
Although banned in North Carolina and some municipalities, magnetic fishing is unregulated in most countries and has not created the problems seen in Europe. With less ammunition in US waters, the risks are less, and many hobbyists have large vehicles they can use to transport their catch.
“Most of the people here pull their vans to the dock, don’t walk with a small bucket,” Demchak said. “Leaving the junk is a big no-no. “
In Berlin, where many residents do not have a car at all, transporting magnet fishing waste is often out of the question.
With over 50,000 subscribers on YouTube, Nils Lange and Tobias Schiller are Germany’s most popular magnet fishermen. But at 17, they were too young to drive a car on their own. (Nils turned 18, the legal driving age in Germany in most cases, on Sunday.)
On a recent Thursday after school, they took the train to one of their favorite fishing holes in central Berlin, a canal that juts out off the River Spree, where people often throw objects by the bridges. Within minutes, they recovered an ax and a metal railing.
Almost all they find is garbage, not treasure. When they find WWII bombs (five times) or weapons (15 times) or safes (around 30 times), or anything of historical interest, like a Prussian sword, they call authorities. They found electric scooters, strollers and, once, a toilet. They hardly keep any of it.
“Knives are something we keep sometimes,” Nils said. “If the blade is less than 12 centimeters, we can keep it. (By law, you can legally carry a knife with a blade less than 12 centimeters in Germany.)
After a fishing expedition, Nils and Tobias will leave small piles of rusty metal along the river, always placed away from major pedestrian arteries. During the first months of their fishing careers, they used to call the town and tell the crews where to pick up the litter.
But earlier this year, they befriended another magnet fishing crew they now call in to pick up their scrap: 16-year-old Scotty Schiemang and his father, John Betzien.
Like many others, Scotty and his father started magnet fishing early in the pandemic. They bought a trailer that they hang on the back of their car. Between selling the scrap metal and their YouTube account, which has nearly 12,000 subscribers, they earn enough to cover the cost of the gasoline they use to get to the fishing grounds.
In the past 18 months, they have taken more than 170 bikes out of the water, including, in February, 120 in a single day. Their best find: a bayonet they believe to be from the 19th century. The weirdest part: a briefcase full of old vegetables. “It smelled so bad,” Scotty said. Sometimes when they find fishing gear, they send it to YouTube viewers who love to fish.
While finding artifacts is fun, he said, the point is to clean up the river. To that end, they are happy to help Nils and Tobias tidy up. Still, Scotty said: “We hope the other guys get driver’s licenses soon… And a trailer.” “
Write to Ian Lovett at firstname.lastname@example.org
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