YARMOUTH – The number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine continues to steadily decline – possibly foreshadowing an end to the recent record catches that have boosted New England’s lobster fishery, scientists say.
A University of Maine survey of 11 Gulf of Maine locations suggests that numbers of young lobsters have declined by more than half their 2007 levels – significant since lobsters typically take about eight years to reach the legal harvesting size.
The downward trend has lobstermen, retailers, state officials and ocean scientists concerned that the impact could soon be felt on dinner tables nationwide. Maine lobsters were 85 percent of the nation’s lobster catch in 2012.
Warmer ocean temperatures, pollution, atmospheric conditions and changes in predation and availability of food could all be to blame, say scientists, state officials and industry leaders. Lobsters are very sensitive to even subtle changes in temperature, scientists say.
Maine Department of Marine Resources officials say the decline does not appear to be the product of overfishing, as some environmental groups contend.