Warmer waters spur significant shift in US lobster fishery

Published on
August 21, 2015

Lobstermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island are experiencing first-hand – and perhaps more intensely than others – the effect that warming waters can have on their catch.

The lobster population in southern New England has plummeted to the lowest levels on record, according to the Associated Press. But while the lobster industry struggles south of Cape Cod, lobster fishers in the northern reaches of Maine are experiencing new highs in their quotas. The trend is putting lobstermen in the southern New England regions out of business, which is “a shame," notes Jason McNamee, chief of marine resource management for Rhode Island's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

"It's such a traditional, historical fishery," McNamee said to the AP.

By 2013, the number of adult lobsters caught in waters south of Cape Cod was one-fifth of what it used to be in its prime back in the late 1990s – 3.3 million pounds of lobster were recorded in 2013 compared to the 22 million pounds recorded in 1997. These drops, according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, come “largely in response to adverse environmental conditions, including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years.”

For the lobster fishers trolling the Gulf of Maine, the catch has more than doubled since the mid-1990s, with 250 million adult lobsters reported in the latest record. Maine lobstermen in particular have hauled in 100 million pounds of lobster four years in a row now.

"It very much looks like what you would expect from a species that is responding to a warming ocean: It's going to move toward the poles," said Andy Pershing, chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute of Portland, Maine, to the AP.

"The wheelhouse of the lobster fishery has shifted north," added Dan McKiernan, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and chairman of the Atlantic States commission's lobster management board, to the AP.

While restaurants and lobster bakes along the southern coasts of New England will most likely continue to draw vacationers, it’s anticipated that much of the lobster will be sourced from northern outlets.

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