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Hot water: New Jersey weighs measures to protect lobsters as harvests shrink

The US east coast state of New Jersey is undertaking a "full review of its lobster management" practices, including possible changes to the minimum size, following a continued drop in landings, the New Jersey Evening Post reports this week.

The state landed just 193 metric tons in 2018, down even from the 268t harvested in 2011, according to the newspaper. However, lobster remains New Jersey’s most valuable commercial species, with its landings accounting for about half of the fishing fleet’s annual income.

That was $190.5 million in 2017, down from $193 million in 2017, according to the latest available data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The current review is looking at all management measures and has had input from scientists and fisheries managers in  European countries, according to the newspaper, which notes that several harvesters have been taken to court recently for exceeding minimum catch sizes.

However, Paul Chambers, the marine and coastal manager for the state's Growth, Housing and Environment Department, reportedly told the newspaper that concerns have been expressed by local and regional managers and fishing representatives. However, he added, there is no cause for panic and the review is a precautionary measure.

Any revisions must be evidence-based and the recommendations workable and effective, he said.

"No fishery is static and all management measures must be periodically reviewed to ensure they are operating effectively and fairly for both the fishery and the underlying species’ stock," he reportedly said.

Ocean temperatures off the mid-Atlantic coast, from North Carolina to Massachusetts, rose 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit between 1977 and 2015, wrote Michele Byers, in an opinion column published earlier this month in www.northjersey.com. That's altered the state's commercial fish landings.

“Lobsters are just nowhere near as abundant as they used to be,” she quoted Malin Pinsky, associate professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, as saying.

The lobsters are instead booming in the waters off Maine, which 50 years ago were too cold, noted Pinsky, co-author of several recent studies on ocean impacts.

Similarly, hake and surf clams are far less abundant off the state's coast.

The big winners, according to Byers: black sea bass and summer flounder. They were centered off the Virginia coast in the 1960s, but have shifted north as far as Rhode Island.

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