ELLSWORTH — While Maine’s lobster industry continues to be strong, problems with the bait supply notwithstanding, fishermen seeking lobsters in the waters in southern New England have not been so lucky. Over the past several years, the effects of warming ocean temperatures have wreaked havoc on the lobster stock in southern New England.
Last month, fisheries regulators once again turned their attention to the problem.
The American Lobster Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has approved the development of new changes to the fishery management plan that regulates the inshore lobster fishery. The changes are aimed at finding ways to rebuild the depleted stock of lobsters in the waters of southern New England while preserving a functional portion of the lobster fishery in the area.
The changes could include a variety of measures aimed at increasing egg production and lower fishing mortality of the challenged stock. Among the new controls could be an increase in the minimum size of legal lobsters and of the escape vents in lobster traps. The plan also might include seasonal fishing closures, limits on the number of traps that may be fished and a reduction in the number of traps in the water.
The new proposals come in response to the results of a 2015 lobster stock assessment that found the southern New England stock to be severely depleted, with low levels of reproduction and little prospect that the situation would improve.
Declines in population abundance were most pronounced in the segment of the stock located close to shore, where environmental conditions have remained unfavorable to lobsters for at least the past two decades.
According to data from ocean buoys maintained by the North Eastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems, those adverse conditions include increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years combined with too much fishing.
A decline in the offshore portion of the stock also was apparent, although it was not as severe. Scientists believe, though, that the offshore portion of the stock probably depends on migration to deeper waters of larval lobsters that have first settled and developed in waters close to shore. If that is the case, the scientists say, the offshore lobster stock also can be expected to decline in the future.