Sustaining a thriving lobster fishery through science and community.
February 3, 2001
Lobster Decline or Census Undercounts?
Letter to the Editor
Scientists at the University of Maine and Bigelow Laboratory have predicted a decline in lobster landings based on census counts of "larvae in the water, newly settled juveniles on the bottom, and older juveniles on the bottom." They recommend that lobster managers should act on this prediction by taking regulatory action and that lobster fishermen may want to avoid making large new financial commitments.
The Lobster Conservancy census data on newly settled and older juveniles do not show this decline. The difference in our findings is largely based on when censuses are taken. For example, the University of Maine and Bigelow Laboratory scientist sample newly settled juveniles on the bottom in mid September. This might be analogous to a census taker going to the hospitals in the Penobscot Bay region and counting the babies born in mid September of each year, then using those data to make predictions about the future financial needs of our area schools.
The problem is not only that the scientists have insufficient data to make their claims, but that other information exists to refute those claims. The lobster "birth" season does not end in mid September. The Lobster Conservancy samples year-round and finds that more juveniles show up in census counts in October and November than in September. Scientists at The Lobster Conservancy also tag the lobsters, so we know that they move in and out of particular areas.
Scientists are barely beginning to grasp the complex dynamics of early lobster life. The collective "we" of science does not have sufficient information to predict the future of the lobster industry. We need to be more conservative in reporting the interpretations of our findings.
Diane F. Cowan is president of The Lobster Conservancy based on Friendship Long Island. The conservancy is dedicated to studying lobsters to gain knowledge that will help preserve the fishery.