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Baby lobster numbers declining from Bar Harbor to Cape Cod

By Karen Graham     Jun 30, 2019 in Environment
Baby lobsters are continuing to appear in high numbers off some parts of Canada while tailing off in New England, raising questions about what the valuable shellfish’s population will look like in several years.
University of Maine scientist Rick Wahle has documented trends in baby lobster density for years and released new data for 2018 this month, according to the Associated Press.
Wahle's latest data reinforces a troubling trend in the movement of lobster populations further north into Atlantic Canada, such as some areas in Nova Scotia, Wahle said. The Gulf of Maine, from Bar Harbor to Cape Cod reported below average numbers of baby lobsters.
Wahle explains that baby lobsters settle on the ocean bottom to take shelter as they grow. He now tracks 23 areas from Rhode Island to Prince Edward Island, Canada to get his data every year. The high totals were in Canadian locations such as St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia, while the low numbers were in Maine fishing areas, like the Midcoast region and Casco Bay.
The future of the lobster fishery
Canadian and American fishermen compete for the same species of lobster, and in both countries the lobster industry is very lucrative. About the only reference to climate change as being part of the problem with the lobster migration was the comment that, "Some scientists have said the shellfish appear to be moving north as waters warm."
Waiting for the lobster season to open
Waiting for the lobster season to open
“It’s as if this wave that has crested in Maine is now increasing in Atlantic Canada,” Wahle said, according to the Seattle Times.
The annual American Lobster Settlement Index says the decline in the settlement of young lobsters in the Gulf of Maine has “raised concerns over the future of the region’s fishery." The U.S. lobster industry is based mostly inj Maine, and in recent years, the haul has been high.
Maine's catch peaked at an all-time high of 132.6 million pounds in 2016 before falling to 111.9 million pounds— still a historically high number in 2017. In 2018, the haul rebounded to nearly 120 million pounds (54 million kilograms) with a value of nearly one-half a billion do0llars.
Grand Manan lobster fishing boats in North Head Harbor in New Brunswick  Canada.
Grand Manan lobster fishing boats in North Head Harbor in New Brunswick, Canada.
Lobstermen facing looming problems
Democratic Representative. Jared Golden of Maine said recently the federal government is asking Maine lobstermen, whose industry is critical to the state, “to make huge sacrifices without clear evidence that those sacrifices will have any positive impact on right whales.”
Federal fisheries regulators say that to reduce the risk posed to endangered Atlantic right whales by 60 percent, they want lobstermen to begin removing half the vertical buoy lines attached to lobster traps from the water. These new protections are needed to save the whales, which number only slightly more than 400, from extinction.
Even more worrisome for lobster fishermen will be the shortage of bait this year. Maine lobstermen usually rely heavily on herring for bait, but the bait allowance is depressing. The New England Fishery Management Council recently announced there would be a further reduction in the amount of herring allowed to be caught off the coast of New England in 2020 and 2021.
This year’s quota is about 33.2 million pounds. For the next two years, the allowable herring catch would be reduced to about 25.5 million pounds — a cut of about 23 percent. Needless to say, all up and down the coast, fishermen are looking at serious bait shortages and sky-high costs for bait fish.
More about baby lobster numbers, Maine, Atlantic canada, Lobster industry, herring right whales
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