Ice augers, fishing shelters, heaters, tackle boxes, depth finders, sleds and other fishing gear appeared to be sinking into Lake Superior off an ice floe that broke away from Duluth’s shoreline Tuesday morning.
Some 27 people were rescued off the ice floe Tuesday just before noon, all unharmed, but most of them left their gear behind on the ice floe as they were being rescued.
"It was probably a couple thousand dollars worth (of gear left behind) for most of us," said Alex Butler, one of the anglers rescued off the ice flow at 21st Avenue East in Duluth.
At the time, rescue crews were more concerned about saving lives and then later felt it would risk their lives to go back and retrieve the gear. Temperatures were hovering near zero with winds gusting to 25 mph at the time as the ice sheet move farther from shore.
Kate Van Daele, spokesperson for the city of Duluth, said it appears one group of anglers went out in a 14-foot boat Tuesday evening to retrieve some of their gear.
"They told our team that many of the ice houses were beginning to sink," Van Daele said Wednesday, adding that some video taken by a drone over the lake appeared to show the ice was rapidly deteriorating as it floated further out into Lake Superior.
"We sent (Duluth Fire Department) crews out twice last night and it was too dangerous to go and collect the gear," she said.
City officials also worried that other anglers were attempting to recover more gear by boat in choppy waves but they were unable to find any other boats during a search from shore Tuesday night in the dark.
"We had (fire department) crews search the shore from Brighton to McQuade Harbor and didn’t find anyone," Van Daele said. “We are guessing that with the wind speed and waves that many if not most of the gear has sunk … or may be on its way to Two Harbors.”
Van Daele said county officials declined to go and retrieve the gear.
Kipp Duncan, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer who patrols eastern Duluth and surrounding areas, said there is no effort underway to identify and ticket the people who left items on the ice. Duncan said that, while there are laws requiring people to retrieve vehicles stranded on the ice or submerged in a lake, there doesn’t appear to be any law that fits this scenario.
"It’s not litter. And they didn’t leave the stuff out there on purpose," Duncan noted.