Ben Gutzler / Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve

ME - Fitness Trackers, Environmental Sensors Prototyped to Improve Survival in the Lobster Supply Chain

Miniature fitness trackers for lobsters and devices to monitor the quality of their shipping conditions are being prototyped as part of an initiative to reduce stress points and improve survival in the lobster supply chain for the Maine lobster industry.

The University of Maine Lobster Institute leads the initiative in collaboration with lobster industry partners and scientific collaborators at Saint Joseph's College and Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. This effort to improve practices to reduce mortality throughout the lobster supply chain was one of 30 projects nationwide to receive funding earlier this year from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Saltonstall-Kennedy Program. Of the eight funded projects in the Atlantic region, it is the only one focused on the American lobster.

"Maine's lobster industry asked the institute to help quantify and mitigate stress points in the lobster supply chain that reduce survival and profitability," says Lobster Institute director Rick Wahle, who is based at UMaine's Darling Marine Center. "The industry calls it 'shrink'—the mortality lobsters experience as they change hands from capture to kitchen. It's been a long-standing, contentious issue that is heating up, both literally and figuratively, in a changing climate and competitive world market."

As part of the two-year project funded at more than $299,000, miniature sensory devices—crustacean heart and activity trackers (C-HAT, pronounced sea-hat)—are being prototyped. Comparable to a human fitness tracker, the noninvasive device strapped on a lobster is designed to monitor heart rate and movement as the crustacean passes from trap to on-board live tank to live storage crate to truck to wholesaler or processor.

A separate sensor-equipped device called the MockLobster will also travel along with crated lobsters to log environmental conditions experienced, including temperature, light and dissolved oxygen.

"The idea is to strap the C-HAT on a lobster in a crate as a representative of how a lobster responds to the trip from boat to wharf to wholesaler and to its final destination," says Ben Gutzler of Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, who is collaborating on the devices along with Steve Jury of Saint Joseph's College. "Ideally, we will also have a MockLobster traveling with the C-HAT to measure temperature, motion and other conditions, as the crate makes the trip. We'll then do it all over again for more trips, so we have a representative sampling of trips from a particular wharf."

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