The Coastal Packet: Maine's lobster mystery

Saturday, October 10

Maine's lobster mystery

Quartz - [Maine's] lobster business is the only fishery on the planet that has endured for more than a century and yet produces more volume and value than ever before. And not just slightly more. Last year, Maine fishermen hauled ashore 124 million pounds of lobsters, six times more than what they’d caught in 1984. The $456 million in value those landings totaled was nearly 20% higher than any other year in history, in real terms. These days, around 85% of American lobster caught in the US is landed in Maine—more than ever before.

Even more remarkable than sheer volume, though, is that this sudden sixfold surge has no clear explanation. A rise in sea temperatures, which has sped up lobster growth and opened up new coastal habitats for baby lobsters, is one likely reason. Another is that by plundering cod and other big fish in the Gulf of Maine, we’ve thinned out the predators that long kept lobster numbers in check. Both are strong hypotheses, yet no one’s sure we really understand what’s going on.

Even as biologists puzzle over Maine’s strange serendipity, a more ominous mystery is emerging. A scientist who tracks baby lobsters reports that in the last few years their numbers have abruptly plummeted, up and down Maine’s coast. With the number of breeding lobsters at an all-time high, it’s unclear why the baby lobster population would be cratering—let alone what it portends. It could reflect a benign shift in baby lobster habitats. Or it could be that the two-decade boom is already on its way to a bust. To form a clearer picture why, we first need to unravel the possible causes of the current lobster glut.

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