Equipped with powerful magnets, history enthusiasts and environmentalists scour France’s rivers, pulling out bits of scrap metal, bikes, scooters and the odd kitchen appliance.
Sometimes, they fish other more unexpected objects out of the water, such as unexploded munitions.
“Magnet fishing” has fast become a popular pastime, public safety officials said, but French authorities have clamped down over fears that historical battle sites could still harbor active weapons.
As in other countries, practicers in France tie a supermagnet to a rope and drop it into waterways, partly for treasure hunting, partly for environmental reasons.
On the banks of the Oise River, in a town about 75km north of Paris, Owen Gressier, 20, and his three fellow magnet fishermen cast their neodymium magnets.
After several attempts at their spot near a bridge in La Croix-Saint-Ouen, they latched onto something. It took a few minutes to haul out the item with the help of a grappling hook. A rusty, cast-iron pipe emerged.
“Nice catch,” they said.
“We’ve been fishing here for a number of years, the bottom [of the river] is pretty clean,” said Gressier, a forklift truck operator.
Driven by what he called his passion for World War II and a quest to find medals, military gear and other historical objects, Gressier said that he also “quickly realized that it was possible to clean up the waterways”
In 2017, he set up a Facebook page, which now has more than 500 subscribers, where members share photographs, advice and organize outings.
“It’s crazy everything you can find in the water,” Gressier said, listing anything from electric scooters to traffic signs and microwave ovens.
“With a dozen people, you can sometimes pull out 50kg of scrap metal in a few hours,” he added.
In the neighboring Somme department, site of one of the largest battles of World War I, Christophe Devarenne started magnet fishing three months ago.
He said the thrill comes from “not knowing what will be at the end of the magnet.”
However, the 52-year-old driver said that “if you expect to find treasures, there are not many.”
Although he did pull out a rifle dating from 1914 to 1918, he said that it was “downright rusty after 100 years in the water.”
“Even the Museum of the Great War did not want it,” he said, adding that nothing goes to waste, as it is resold or given to scrap merchants.
In other French regions, too, where bloody battles were fought during both world wars, magnet-fishing enthusiasts have discovered shells, ammunition and grenades.
They can still be active, the national public safety authority said.
Faced with the hobby’s rising popularity in the past two years, including under the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge in central Paris, the authority has made police across France aware of the dangers.
In May, a man was seriously injured after pulling out a shell that emitted mustard gas, in the Nord region, home to the town of Dunkirk.
Two young magnet fishers in the Somme at the end of July also hauled out a phosphorus grenade, which irritated their eyes, police said.
The pastime is now illegal in France without a permit issued by the state or landowners.
“We were not aware of the risks ... until my son found a grenade,” said Helene Ledien, who lives in the Somme.
She said that her 14-year-old son Arthur bought a magnet for about 30 euros (US$33) on Amazon and regularly fishes with his friend for environmental reasons.
Gressier said that his group had hauled out one active shell and hundreds of rusty weapons, but knows what to do in that case.
“We establish a security perimeter and we warn the disposal experts,” he added.
Despite the warnings, his group said it would not stop the activity that has got them hooked.
“It’s a passion, good for the planet, we will not stop overnight,” said his 26-year-old friend Nicolas, who declined to give his full name.
“People will play cat and mouse,” Devarenne said.
“Nobody is really afraid, because the police have better things to do than chase after magnets,” he added.
TARNISHED LEGACY: Woodrow Wilson served as the university’s president before becoming the US’ 28th leader, but his racism was ‘significant and consequential’ Princeton University is removing former US president Woodrow Wilson’s name from its public policy school and one of its residential colleges after trustees concluded that the 28th president’s “racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake.” The Ivy League school’s trustees made the decision on Friday, according to a statement on Saturday. It comes at a time of widespread rethinking of the US’ racial legacy. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, energized by a series of high-profile deaths of black Americans, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments, flags and symbols of racism across the US. Deleting Wilson’s name at Princeton
‘FULLY ENCLOSED’: Residents of Anxin County would be confined to their homes and would only be allowed out once a day to buy necessities such as food and medicine China yesterday imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people near the capital to contain a fresh COVID-19 cluster as authorities warned the outbreak was still “severe and complicated.” After China largely brought the virus under control, hundreds have been infected in Beijing and cases have emerged in Hebei Province. Health officials said that Anxin County — about 150km from Beijing — would be “fully enclosed and controlled,” the same strict measures imposed at the height of the pandemic in the city of Wuhan earlier this year. Only one person from each family would be allowed to go out once a
Japan said it opposed changes to the G7 nations as it pushed back against a reform plan by US President Donald Trump that would have rival South Korea this year join in an expanded meeting. Tokyo has told the US it stands against South Korea’s participation on the grounds of differences in policy on China and North Korea, Kyodo News reported this weekend, citing more than one source related to Japanese and US diplomacy. Japan also wants to maintain its status as the only Asian country in the group, the news agency added. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday told reporters that
The onset of summer has sparked a rise in incidents of “mask rage” in South Korea as more hot and bothered commuters either refuse to wear face coverings or leave parts of their faces exposed. In South Korea, Japan and other countries in East Asia, widespread mask wearing has been cited as one possible explanation for the region’s relative success in bringing the COVID-19 pandemic under control. South Korea, one of the first countries outside China to be affected by the virus, flattened the coronavirus curve in April, although it is now struggling with dozens of daily cases, mainly in and around