Lobster fisheries have long been a way of life in New England. But lobster stocks have dropped considerably in the past few decades, and experts are blaming over-fishing and climate change. Warming waters plus excessive farming have brought lobster hauls to such a low point that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has proposed a five year moratorium on lobster fishing. 

Naturally, this new position has been met with resistance.  As reported in the Vineyard Gazette Online, lobster fisheries are the second biggest dock income for the state of Massachusetts, second only to sea scalloping. But the number of available lobsters have been dropping steadily. For instance, a little over ten years ago lobstermen brought in 15.8 million pounds of lobsters in Massachusetts. The number now is 10.9 million pounds, and most of the lobsters are fished north of Cape Cod. And reports are that just last year, Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound lobstermen landed 176,728 pounds. To put that in perspective, in 1989 they landed over a million pounds.

The situation is grim enough for officials to take action. As the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission wrote in a report last week, “Overwhelming environmental and biological changes coupled with continued fishing greatly reduce the likelihood of southern New England stock rebuilding.” Recent studies of currents using satellite technology show that female egg-bearing lobsters are moving into deeper, colder water. Experts note that this means that free-swimming lobster larva will no longer find their way to the waters of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

This report draws a direct connection between the warming temperatures of the ocean and the decline of the area lobsters. As written, “the strong coincidence in the timing of the increase in water temperature with the timing of the decline in landings, spawning stock biomass, and recruitment, coupled with overwhelming experimental evidence of increased physiological stress, immunosupression, and increased rates of disease in lobster exposed to prolonged periods of water over 20 degrees Celsius, strongly suggest that increasing water temperatures have played a primary role.” The committee is composed of nine biologists from the East Coast and one from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

A special meeting on the proposed moratorium will be held July 22 in Rhode Island to further discuss the matter. Hopes are that it would give spawning lobster stock time to reboot for the next generation. But many are worried that it would decimate the livelihood of already struggling lobster fisherman. Some feel that it simply may be an exercise in futility. Experts point out that there is no guarantee shutting down lobster fishing will help replenish their stock. Others feel that from a social and economic standpoint, it just won’t work.

For further reading:

Lobster stocks are failing in the Northeast
Lobsters are so badly depleted that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has called for a five year moratorium on their fishing.