Scientists report drop in juvenile lobsters despite high landings

With contradicting figures, researchers look to fix forecasting models


According to an update from the American Lobster Settlement Index for 2016, the number of young lobsters in the Gulf of Maine has been declining since 2007 and doesn’t show signs of reversing soon.

The international monitoring program annually takes count of the population of newly settled lobsters at more than 100 sites throughout New England and Canada. This year, sites from New Brunswick to Cape Cod Bay reported some of the lowest settlements since the late 1990s.

Since it takes about seven years for a lobster to reach harvest size, the index indicates that Maine lobstermen should have seen a drop in landings over the past few years. But the opposite has happened — lobstermen have experienced record highs in volume and value in recent years, landing $533.1 million in lobster in 2016.

Rick Wahle, a University of Maine scientist and founder of index, says scientists need to explore the disconnect between their data and the undeniable abundance of lobsters, and then fine-tune their forecasting models.

“If we were to see a collapse in the lobster catch, it would mean that we’re already seven to eight years into a decline in the population,” said Wahle.

A downward trend in lobster populations would have a serious effect on Maine’s economy — preliminary figures show lobster accounted for 74 percent of the state’s $721.2 million in seafood landings.

Scientists say the increased mortality rate of settling lobster larvae could be connected to changes in quantity or quality of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus, the main food source for larval lobsters.

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman.

  • Cliff_Goudey

    No doubt the 100 international monitoring sites were not randomly chosen but instead for their abundance of juvenile lobsters and intertidal accessibility. Could these early-stage populations be moving to deeper, colder waters as the GoM warms?

  • TK

    “Scientists say the increased mortality rate of settling lobster larvae could be connected to changes in quantity or quality of the copepod Calanus finmarchicus, the main food source for larval lobsters.”

    Note the “could”. When people use nebulous words, they are not speaking as scientists with facts. Instead they are adding personal opinion into a statement that should be absolutely restricted to objective fact.

    When adult lobsters are plentiful, real scientists should ask what they can do to validate and verify their young lobster analysis; not what else to imagine “could” be possible.

    Not too many years ago, a person attached cameras to lobster pots. What the cameras revealed was an incredible abundance of lobsters that roamed in and out of lobster traps.

    With copious large lobsters roaming, any young lobster must stay hidden and inaccessible.

    Perhaps the young lobsters are also hiding from the alleged scientists that happily blame vague possibilities.

    So yes, it “could” be insufficient young lobster food.
    Yes, it “could” be young lobsters hide effectively.
    Yes, it “could” be larger lobsters scarfing down young lobsters.
    Or
    It “could” be grant hungry researchers playing on public concerns for more years on the public dole “investigating” minor lobster possibilities. Grant hungry researchers are not studying lobsters for either lobster or our sakes.

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.