Robert Steneck will present “Maine’s changing lobster fishery: some direct and indirect impacts of climate change” at 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 10, during a webinar hosted by the University of Maine Darling Marine Center in Walpole.
The American lobster (Homarus americanus) fishery is not only Maine’s most valuable marine resource, it is also the most valuable species harvested in the United States. Maine’s lobster is perhaps the only species in the world to have been heavily fished for well over a century but is doing better in recent years than ever before with record landings in 2016. One might think this is a fishery with few worries now or in the future. However, challenges for this fishery have never been greater. Today, the economic impact of COVID-19, international trade problems, concerns about the northern right whale and bait shortages all weigh heavily on everyone who fishes for lobsters on the Maine coast. While many of those concerns will hopefully be resolved in the next several years, a less conspicuous but a longer-term concern relates to climate change. The warming Gulf of Maine has generally improved conditions for baby lobster abundance but big changes may be occurring to where lobsters live.
Starting in the 1980s, Steneck and his students conducted SCUBA diving surveys of lobsters to determine in which habitats they were most abundant. From 1989 to 1999 Steneck’s team found lobsters were primarily in shallow water– living in shelters within boulder fields. In 2019, Steneck and his students re-examined lobster populations and found them to be more spread out on ledge and sediment habitats but not concentrated in boulder fields as they had been. The research team also observed a thick carpet of non-native (invasive) seaweed – some of which was rotting on the sea floor. Steneck’s team is now exploring the possibility that small pockets of low oxygen due to rotting seaweed and warmer sea temperatures may be causing lobsters to avoid boulder field shelters. Since large predatory fish such as cod are now rare along the coast of Maine, there is little negative consequence to lobsters that choose not to shelter in place. However, this is only the start of what may become a much larger study of the indirect effects of our changing Gulf of Maine.
This virtual event is free to attend, however, space is limited and registration is required. Click here to register.