New federally funded research projects will seek to better understand climate change and other impacts on the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery. Maine’s lobster fleet continues to see record landings but there’s concern about an eventual downturn. PHOTO / LAURIE SCHREIBER

NOAA awards $2M for lobster research, much of it to be conducted in Maine

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program has awarded $2 million to lobster research projects and a regional lobster extension program.

Seven research projects were chosen through a competitive process that included expert review, according to a news release.

The projects aim to increase understanding of factors such as lobster biology, distribution and socioeconomic issues associated with a steep decline of landings in southern New England, as they pertain to Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine.

Collectively, the projects and the regional extension program are called the Sea Grant American Lobster Initiative.

Regional outreach

The regional program is designed to link lobster research with the industry, resource managers and other stakeholders, who can use the results for additional studies and for making decisions.

Maine Sea Grant will provide overall leadership and coordination. Other Sea Grant programs in New England will lead local components.

Annual landings of American lobster are worth an estimated $666.7 million, and a 2016 report said lobster was the most valuable marine species in the nation. The lobster fishery is one of the largest on the Atlantic coast, and total U.S. landings have steadily increased over the past 35 years.

In 2016, more than 80% of lobsters were harvested in Maine. Maine’s catch dropped 18% in 2017, and swung up in 2018.

But the experience in southern New England, where catches have declined from over 20 million pounds in the late 1990s to 6 million pounds in recent years, has raised concerns that a similar situation could occur in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Banks after years of record harvests.

Understanding the factors leading to recruitment failures and the socioeconomic implications are considered critical to preserving the fishery.

The National Sea Grant Office will coordinate the projects and the regional extension program.

Two projects will be conducted by University of Maine researchers.

• “Linking the Gulf of Maine pelagic food web to lobster recruitment dynamics” will examine the disconnect between historic highs in Gulf of Maine lobster egg production and lows in young-of-year recruitment. The researchers will evaluate the hypothesis that changes in the abundance and distribution of the food that lobster eat, zooplankton, may impact their ability to survive.

• “Projecting climate-related shifts in lobster habitat and connectivity" will examine the impacts of ocean warming on lobster and larval development.

Two projects will be conducted by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland.

• “Assessing maximum economic yield effort levels in Gulf of Maine's lobster fishery” will look at the severe declines in lobster fisheries in southern New England and Australia. Questions include: What management adaptations were considered or acted upon? How can the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery be prepared, in order to prevent a economic contraction in the face of expected declines in landings and increases in operating costs?

• “Resilience, adaptation, and transformation in lobster fishing communities” will study the experiences of southern New England fishing communities during the decline of lobster populations in the late 1990s, and how those experiences can offer lessons for lobstermen and communities in the Gulf of Maine.

One project will be conducted by Wells National Estuarine Research Preserve.

• The research will study the impacts of warming Gulf of Maine waters on the movements of sexually mature female lobsters, and the fate of their larvae that recruit into the fishery. This information will help predict the impacts of a changing climate on the future of this marine resource.

See Mainebiz article . . .