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P.E.I.'s 'Bottle Man' agrees to stop message-in-a-bottle campaign that uses plastic containers

Harold Hackett sorts through a box of correspondence he has received from people around the world who discovered his messages in bottles. He has four such boxes of responses plus a display at Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Cavendish.
Harold Hackett sorts through a box of correspondence he has received from people around the world who discovered his messages in bottles. He has four such boxes of responses plus a display at Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Cavendish. - Eric McCarthy

TIGNISH, P.E.I. - His days of throwing bottles into the open water might be over, but Harold Hackett is content to be forever known as the Bottle Man.

The Tignish resident has confirmed that he will comply with a provincial Fish and Wildlife directive to terminate the message-in-a-bottle campaign he has been running with great results since 1996.

But that only affects the 66-year-old’s outgoing mail.

Hackett said he was told by Fish and Wildlife officials, that “you’re looking at a $5,000 fine if you’re caught.

“They’re pretty strict now with all the plastics.”

“I said, ‘No, I’ll stop now.’ As of now, I will not let another bottle go.”

The officer indicated 22 complaints were received in one day. Still, Hackett figures the people who enjoy hearing about his unique hobby far outnumber those who object to it.

“A lot of them think I’m doing a wonderful thing, a hobby, getting to meet people from all over the world.”

He’s taking the order from Fish and Wildlife in stride and admits he’s enjoying the attention it is generating, telling about a man from Montreal who took offense to the governmental order for picking on the little guy and a Lunenburg, N.S., caller who lamented that big polluters are being ignored.

Hackett said he tossed over 10,000 bottles into the water off North Cape over the past 22 years, the latest batch in late June.

Large juice bottles were stuffed with messages and the covers taped shut to prevent water from seeping in, sinking the bottles and destroying the message.

He invited the finders to write back to him, and, so far, over 4,800 people have done so.

By his estimation, there could be close to 6,000 bottles still bobbing around, just waiting to be found. So, on that note, he expects to hear from finders the rest of his life, maybe even from finders of some of the 475 he let go this year prior to his stop order.

“I will be getting bottles, if I’m alive, 10 years from now. Some of my 1996s only came back this summer.”
-Harold Hackett

“I will be getting bottles, if I’m alive, 10 years from now. Some of my 1996s only came back this summer,” he noted.

Two weeks ago, he was visited by two sisters from New Brunswick who found one of his bottles while out lobster fishing this year with their father. The bottle had been released in June 2001.

He is also in contact with a freelance writer from Portugal who found a bottle with a note indicating it had been released on Oct. 24, 2001, Hackett’s mother’s birthday. He told Hackett he will visit, if he ever travels to Canada.

He heard from a couple in North Carolina nearly 20 years ago who found one of his bottles during New Year’s Eve festivities. They visited him the following summer and plan to return next year. A couple from Holland also showed up with one of his notes.

“What I’m doing for tourism on P.E.I., and here they are, a poor fella like me, trying to fine me $5,000,” he joked.

A woman from England has been corresponding with him for nearly two decades, sending her letters in unique containers, like a Christmas piñata, a watering can and an Easter bunny.

“She wouldn’t put them in a letter (envelope) and send them to me for she figured she’d offend me,” he explained.

Several news outlets around the world have carried stories about Hackett’s hobby, and the retired fishermen suspects the end of his message-in-a bottle will trigger a new round of stories. He welcomes them, he said.

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