BAR HARBOR — Several Maine scientists have received federal funding to learn how the American lobster is affected by environmental change in the Gulf of Maine and across New England.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant announced $2 million in grants late last month for six projects as part of the American Lobster Initiative. The initiative looks to bridge critical gaps in knowledge for Maine’s iconic species.
“Given the importance of lobster to the economy and culture of Maine, I’m thrilled to have these new projects join the growing initiative,” said Amalia Harrington, a marine extension team member with Maine Sea Grant at the University of Maine. “The more we learn now, the better prepared our lobster industry will be in the future.”
Much of the work revolves around young lobsters. Damian Brady, a professor at UMaine, will study larval lobsters to help answer questions around how the ocean conditions, distributions and food supply affect the youngest stages of a lobster’s life.
Rebecca Peters, a marine resource scientist at the Maine Department of Marine Resources, plans to join the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries in Stonington to understand better the current and new predators for American lobsters in the Gulf of Maine, especially for juveniles. She will look into the stomachs of cod, white hake, red hake, halibut, mackerel, black sea bass and striped bass for answers.
Jason Goldstein, the research director at the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, will evaluate the overall health and quality of egg-bearing lobsters and see how they are being affected by climate change.
Previous research indicates that as water temperatures rise and the ocean becomes more acidic, female lobsters are reaching maturity at smaller sizes. That has raised concerns about the number and quality of eggs they can produce.
Stony Brook University in New York will develop a simulation study to gauge the impacts of climate-induced changes to a lobster’s life and alternative management regulations. Northeastern University in Boston will study the expanded ranges of black sea bass and blue crabs into southern New England and the Gulf of Maine and how this could affect lobsters. New Hampshire Fish and Game plans to design and test a trap that samples the early-life phase of lobsters, an understudied segment of the lobster population.
While the lobster fishery has faced many immediate challenges, including increased regulation to protect right whales and the potential for offshore wind farms, climate change could have the largest and most lasting effect.
At the moment, it appears to be benefiting the fishery in Maine, which has recently enjoyed record landings. But if conditions continue on their current trend, it could become harsher for mother and baby lobster, two critical stages for a healthy population.
“The idea is we know adult lobsters are changing their distribution because of those changes,” said Goldstein, one of the Maine-based researchers in the initiative. “What impact does that have on the early life history stages?”