Lobster catch up in Maine, down in southern New England

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 5:15pm

    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has released a preliminary assessment of the U.S. Atlantic coast lobster stock, and it presents a mixed picture. The Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank has seen a record high abundance of lobster, while Southern New England’s stock has diminished, due in part to rising water temperatures, a report indicates.

    “The Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank stock is not overfished and not experiencing overfishing,” according to a panel assessment representing the Commission, in an Aug. 5 news release. “Tthe Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank were previously assessed as separate stock units and are now combined into one stock unit due to evidence of seasonal migratory patterns and connectivity between the two areas. Conversely, the Southern New England stock is severely depleted with poor prospects of recovery, necessitating protection.”

    The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is an interstate compact, working with the federal government. The Commission was established in 1942 to sustain healthy fisheries along the U.S. coastline.

    In the Gulf of Maine, the lobster stock has increased since 1979 and at an accelerated pace since 2007, the report said. Recruitment and spawning stock abundance have remained high between 2008 and 2013. Current stock abundance is at all-time highs.

    Maine prides itself on managing its lobster fisheries efficiently, and in compliance with conservation laws and regulations governing size limits and prohibitions on taking egg-bearing female lobsters.

    But in Southern New England, rising water temperatures over the last 15 years has contributed to a decline in the number of lobsters.

    Before 2011, Southern New England was the second largest fishery, accounting for 19 percent of the U.S. landings between 1981 and 2007; however, a sharp decline in the population significantly reduced the catch. Landings peaked in the 1990s, reaching a high of 21.91 million pounds in 1997. Since then, landings have precipitously dropped to a low of 3.31 million pounds in 2013.

    Both the assessment and peer review support the finding that the SNE stock is severely depleted, the Commission said.

    “Declines in population abundance are most pronounced in the inshore portion of the stock where environmental conditions have remained unfavorable to lobsters since the late 1990s,” it said.

    From the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission site:

    Lobsters periodically shed their shell to allow their body size to increase and mating to occur.

    Males deposit sperm in recently molted females who store it internally until extrusion, which can be delayed for up to two years.

    When extruded, the eggs are fertilized and attached to the underside of the female, where they are carried for 9 to 11 months before hatching.

    Females carrying eggs are often called “berried” females.

    Eggs hatch from mid-May to mid-June, and the new lobster larvae begin their five-stage transition.

    Larvae are planktonic for the first 4 stages, swimming at or near the water surface.

    At the fifth larval stage, juveniles sink to the ocean floor where they remain for the rest of their lifetime.

    Lobsters reach market size in about four to nine years, depending on water temperature and other biological factors. 

     The report said that the offshore area of Southern New England depends on nearshore larval settlement and the migration of young lobsters offshore.

    ‘Unless fishing effort is curtailed, the offshore component will be in jeopardy in the future when the poor year classes fail to materialize offshore,” the report said. 

    The stock in Southern New England has collapsed and is undergoing recruitment failure, the Commission said.

    “Despite attrition among the fleet and fewer traps fished for lobster, declines have continued,” the release said. “These declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years combined with sustained fishing mortality.”

    The report said: “Declines in catch and fishery-independent survey indices in the offshore portion are evident as well; however they are not as severe.  It is believed the offshore area of Southern New England depends on nearshore larval settlement and offshore migration as the source of recruits (e.g., young of the year lobsters). Therefore, unless fishing effort is curtailed, the offshore component will be in jeopardy in the future when the poor year classes fail to materialize offshore. The Peer Review Panel noted while the SNE stock is not experiencing overfishing based on the current reference points, these reference points were established ‘without considering the possibility that the stock could be at the lowest abundance level ever and the production of recruits in the inshore area (on which the offshore area depends) could be brought to an extremely low level. It is noted that pre-recruits are not measured in the offshore surveys, so the effects of recruitment failure in the inshore would not be seen in the offshore until years later when the lobsters become available to the fishery and surveys. Hence, by any reasonable standard, it is necessary to protect the offshore component of the stock until increased recruitment can be observed.’”

    In response to the findings regarding the status of the Southern New England stock, the Board established a working group of Board and Technical Committee members to review the assessment and peer review findings and develop recommendations for Board consideration. 

     The final report will be available by mid-August via the Commission’s website at asmfc.org on the American Lobster page under Stock Assessment Reports.  For more information, contact Megan Ware, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator for Management, at 703.842.0740 or mware@asmfc.org.       


    Total U.S. Lobster Landings

    Total U.S. landings in the fishery have steadily increased in the past 35 years. Up until the late 1970s, landings were relatively constant at about 30.87 million pounds. However by 2000, landings almost tripled to roughly 86 million pounds and by 2006 grew to 92.61 million pounds.

    Landings in 2013 were roughly 149.94 million pounds. These landings are primarily comprised of catch from inshore waters (0 to 12 nautical miles). GOM supports the largest fishery, constituting approximately 76 percent of the U.S. landings between 1981 and 2007 and accounting for approximately 87 percent of landings since 2002.

    Landings in the Gulf of Maine were stable between 1981 and 1989, averaging 32.13 million pounds, and then increased dramatically from 42.34 million pounds (1990) to 141.12 million pounds (2013).

    Landings averaged 112.46 million pounds from 2008-2013. Georges Bank constitutes a smaller portion of the U.S. fishery, with landings averaging 4.93 million pounds between 2008 and 2013.

    Like the Gulf of Maine, landings were stable in the 1980s and then quickly doubled in the early 2000s to a high of 5.29 million pounds in 2005.

    Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657