Inventor and entrepreneur James Knott is being remembered for “singlehandedly” bettering the way of life for New England’s lobstermen.

Knott, who revolutionized the lobstering industry by building a better lobster trap, died Thursday at his home in Massachusetts. He was 88.

Knott was founder, owner and retired CEO of Riverdale Mills Corp., the company he formed in 1980 to produce wire mesh lobster traps, which Knott invented.

Riverdale Mills is the maker of “Aquamesh,” the first marine-grade coated wire mesh used to replace traditional wood in the construction of lobster traps.

A trained economist and mechanical engineer, Knott had noticed how much time lobstermen spent fixing their wooden traps. He was convinced there had to be a better way.

Knott set out to build a more durable lobster trap to keep fishermen in their boats instead of on shore repairing traps or building new ones. He invented and began manufacturing Aquamesh traps, which lasted far longer and ultimately won over skeptical North Atlantic and Canadian lobstermen. Today, 85 percent of all lobster traps in North America are made with Aquamesh.

In 2006, Knott was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Maine for his “commitment to the future of the lobster industry, innovative spirit, perseverance and positive leadership, willingness to share his knowledge and ideas and his outstanding support of UMaine’s Lobster Institute.”

“Jim Knott was a well-respected visionary and an ardent supporter of the lobster industry,” Bob Bayer, executive director of the UMaine Lobster Institute, said in a prepared statement. “His impact cannot be understated. The technical changes he introduced to lobster fishing in Maine and throughout North America were profoundly significant. He singlehandedly changed and bettered the way of life for so many people.”

Knott founded Riverdale Mills in an old abandoned mill on the banks of the Blackstone River in Northbridge, Massachusetts. There, he worked with his sons to restore the facility and property while beginning mass production of Aquamesh. Integral parts of the science leading to Knott’s innovative product were his proprietary galvanized after-welding and polyvinyl chloride coating processes.

This year, the company saw its raw price for steel double because of tariffs. In late July, the company had not passed on increased production costs to its customers in Maine. CEO James Knott Jr., son of James Sr., said Riverdale was absorbing the price hit by slowing the rate at which it was retiring construction debt and dipping into energy savings.

“We are who we are because of the lobster industry, so we’re doing everything we can to make sure this won’t hurt the industry,” Knott Jr. said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald.

After the overwhelming success of Aquamesh in the lobster industry, Knott Sr. set out to expand and diversify the Riverdale Mills product line for other industrial, commercial and business applications.

His “WireWall” high-security fencing, which is “virtually impossible to climb or cut,” according to Riverdale Mills, has been installed worldwide at embassies, transit centers, ports, borders, military bases, manufacturing and power plants, and other highly secure locations. Knott’s welded wire mesh is also used extensively by professionals in the horticulture, agriculture, aquaculture, construction and water treatment industries, the company said.

In all, Riverdale Mills now produces about 3,500 different wire mesh products, the company said.

Earlier in his life, Knott earned an economics degree from Harvard College, studied mechanical engineering at Northeastern University and served two years as a lieutenant in the Army. Before starting his own company, he was CEO of Coatings Engineering Corp., the world’s largest custom plastic coater. He was also a longtime director of the Gilbert & Bennett Manufacturing Co. of Georgetown, Connecticut.

According to colleagues, Knott was an early adopter of recycling. To build some of his manufacturing machinery, he repurposed parts from a printing press that the previous tenant of the mill had left behind. When a journalist once asked Knott how his company had thrived when so many other U.S. manufacturers had faltered, he responded, “We keep our costs low.”

He also modernized the mill with efficiency in mind, restored the natural habitat, tapped the river for hydropower and instituted recycling of all the steel from the manufacturing process.

Knott was an ardent supporter of the lobster industry, funding scholarships and research.

“With the passing of Jim Knott, the lobster and shellfishing industry has lost one of its most prolific supporters,” Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, said in a prepared statement. “Jim believed in sustainable fishing and supported our efforts to ensure the viability of the industry and conservation of fish species. On behalf of the entire industry, we acknowledge his contributions, are grateful for his involvement, and will miss him tremendously.”

Knott’s death was preceded by that of Betty Knott, his wife of 67 years, who died in February. He is survived by his four children, Janet Knott, Andrew Knott, James Knott Jr. and Edward Knott, and four grandchildren. James Knott Jr. became CEO of Riverdale Mills in 2015.

A celebration of James Knott’s life will be held at the Whitin Lasell Manor at 120 Hill St., Whitinsville, Massachusetts, from 2-5 p.m. Nov. 18. Condolences may be expressed to the family by visiting carrfuneralhome.com.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 21 to correct the names of James Knott’s children.

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