Maine lobster industry facing many challenges, changes

Published on
February 20, 2018

Maine’s lobster industry is pushing back against new rules that they say are costly and put onerous requirements on them to record data.

Maine does not have the funds to pay for the new reporting requirements mandated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, according to Patrice McCarron, the executive director of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. McCarron said the new rule, which requires 100 percent of Maine lobstermen to report certain catch data over the next five years, is cost-prohibitive.

“We have more than 4,000 lobstermen, so we have no way to collect trip-level data from all of them,” she told SeafoodSource.

Currently, data is collected from only 10 percent of the state’s lobstermen. The MLA opposed the ASMFC’s proposal on the reporting requirement, explaining that the state does not have the funds for data collection and that its current data system has a 95 to 98 percent confidence interval level. 

“The question for Maine is how do we pay for it. We need electronic reporting technology that would make it simple and fast,” McCarron said. 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association lobster analyst Peter Burns said the more thorough reporting requirements are necessary to give scientists a fuller picture of how the fishery is performing.

“We have a big black hole of reporting somewhere in the Gulf of Maine and into Georges Bank,” Burns told the commission, according to the Portland Press Herald.

As a compromise, ASMFC is phasing in the more stringent reporting requirements over five years, which it said would give Maine time to implement an electronic reporting requirement that may reduce the burden placed on fishermen to comply with the rules.

The data issue is just one of many changes and challenges the Maine lobster fishery is facing, including lawsuits to protect whales, a new report signaling a future decline in the lobster population, and a change in leadership. Dave Cousens, who has served as president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association for the past 27 years, is stepping down on 2 March. 

Cousens, a lobsterman himself, does not have the time to devote to battling the lawsuits and other challenges, he told the Press Herald.

Adding to the challenging conditions facing Maine lobstermen, a recent study found that warming waters will force the Gulf of Maine lobster population to decline through 2050. In 30 years, the lobster population will likely decline to levels seen in the early 2000s, according to researchers at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the University of Maine and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

In 2002, 63 million pounds of lobster were landed, compared to a record 131 million pounds in 2016.

While lobster productivity will decrease as temperatures continue to warm, continued conservation efforts can mitigate the impacts of future warming, the GMRI said in a statement.

“This paper shows how climate and fisheries management are connected,” said Arnault Le Bris, lead author of the study and currently a research scientist at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University in Newfoundland.

“Communities that embrace anticipatory conservation methods can continue to thrive in a warming ocean,” Le Bris said.

Commenting on the study, McCarron acknowledged that lobstermen expect the landings to decline at some point, and said Maine has been a leader in implementing strategies to benefit the long-term health of its lobster fishery.

“The really amazing news is how much Maine’s conservation measures contributed to the boom in the lobster population. The abundance in the Gulf of Maine doubled, because of the additional management measures Maine lobstermen were taking,” McCarron said. “Every single year, we have been shocked when the resource goes up. No one expects it to continue to grow and grow and grow.”

Contributing Editor



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