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article imageSouthern New England lobster stocks 'at record low abundance'

By Karen Graham     May 5, 2017 in Environment
Lobster populations off the southern New England coast have plummeted to record lows, leading fisheries managers to consider new regulations, including a longer, closed season.
A draft report put out by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) found that American lobster stocks in the Southern New England (SNE) region that include Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southern Massachusetts, is at a "record low abundance" and is failing to reproduce at former levels.
The new proposal for the management of lobster stocks will be voted on by the commission on Monday and Tuesday next week. The report blames "changing environmental conditions," as well as “continued fishing mortality” for the drastic decline, and proposes measures that directly focus on increasing egg production.
Last month, according to Newsday, state regulators met with lobstermen to discuss the new proposals that include a longer "closed" season, tighter limits on the size of "keeper" lobsters, as well as new rules on the number of traps that can be set in an attempt to preserve the populations in SNE.
This latest attempt to try and slow or halt the decline in lobster populations is not new. In August 2015, ASMFC released their 2015 Lobster Stock Assessment Report that confirmed what many southern New England lobstermen already knew - There was a record low abundance of lobster stock in the SNE region, along with a severe depletion of the lobster population.
John German, president of the Long Island Sound Lobstermen’s Association says lengthening the closed season would keep lobstermen off the water during August, one of their most profitable months. Long Island Sound lobstermen are already living with a closed season that includes most of September through November following a 2013 closure in the region.
The proposed changes in size measurements for keeper lobsters increases the size to 3-5/8 inches from the current 3-3/8 inches. German says that such a change would reduce his catch by 50 percent.
Montauk lobsterman Al Schaffer doesn't believe the reports of declining lobster populations. He works off Fisher Island, and he says the fishing has been good. “To close us in August is the final straw,” he said. “It’s the highest production month for all of us.”
The ASMFC report also mentions the Gulf of Maine lobster population, citing the record high catches in recent years. The Associated Press also notes that the price of lobster has been high, too.
Specifically, the report states: "Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank – Not depleted and not experiencing overfishing. Southern New England – Depleted and not experiencing overfishing. Abundance is below threshold; Board action is required to rebuild stock."
Lobstermen attended a meeting last month with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) headquarters in Setauket. At that meeting, they were unanimous in wanting the restrictions on lobstering eased. However, DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said recently, "It’s really still too early to determine what management measures will be implemented in New York waters."
Active lobstering permits in the SNE region were down to 394 in 2014, with only 47 of those licenses in New York. German says that now, there are only about 20 lobstermen fishing in the Long Island Sound. New York State lobstermen brought in 146,249 pounds in 2015, down from a record high of 9.4 million pounds in 1996.
More about southern new england, lobster stocks, depleted, ASMFC, New rules
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