April 29, 2014
STATEWIDE - For the past three years lobster men have brought in record hauls to Maine's industry. Now a decline in the settling of baby lobsters looks to cap the end of these recent high catches.
"We don't have a crystal ball yet by any means," Richard Wahle, a faculty researcher at the University of Maine's Darling's Marine Center, says. "We're very much at the infancy of developing these things."
A University of Maine survey shows a decline in more than half of the young lobster population in the Gulf of Maine since 2007.
However, researchers are urging lobster men to remain calm, saying the observation now will pay off later down the road.
"Having that early warning allows the industry and the coastal economy to prepare for change," Wahle says. "That's one of the key benefits of our research."
Wahle says there no clear reason for the decline in baby lobsters, though environmental change appears to be at the top of the list.
"It could be that weather patterns in the past years have exported the larvae out of the Gulf of Maine," Wahle explains. "The other potential factor may be higher mortality rates amongst those lobsters."
What researchers are trying to determine is the link between the ocean environment and ups and downs with the larvae in an effort to create predictive models.
Wahle says there have been successes, like that in Rhode Island, despite a drastic drop in numbers since the 1990s.
"There, it's an issue of declining egg production," Wahle says. "There's a severe impact of shell disease on the adult population."
Though there has been an uptick in the percentage of shell disease, specifically in the western and southwestern parts of the Gulf of Maine, Wahle and other researchers are hoping their continued study will help determine a cause to the trending decline in young lobsters.