Sustaining a thriving lobster fishery through science and community.
July 27, 2000
Counting on lobsters
The Lobster Conservancy monitoring program keeps track of Marblehead's growing population
By Sean Sullivan
While most people know that lobsters live in the waters around Marblehead, not many know what they do before they become someone's dinner. In fact, parts of Marblehead's rocky coast could be some of the most fertile lobster nursery habitat known. A small team of volunteers recently began monitoring juvenile lobster populations along a small stretch of the shoreline to learn more about lobster breeding and rearing.
The research is being done by volunteers under the auspices of the Lobster Conservancy, a Friendship, Maine non-profit corporation dedicated to protecting and preserving the American lobster, and the traditional trap fishery it supports, through scientific research and public education (www.lobsters.org).
Once a month during an extreme low tide, usually very early in the morning, the trained team meets at a specified location, flips rocks, and collects data on the juvenile lobsters they find. In a typical survey area, anywhere from 10 to 20 lobsters are found. In Marblehead, the number is in the forties.
Information is collected about size, sex, habitat and any injuries the lobsters may have, such as a missing claw. Already it has become clear that Marblehead is a prime breeding ground for lobsters.
The information being collected will, over time, provide a picture of the fishery that the Conservancy hopes will aid lobstermen in planning. For example, if there is a particularly successful breeding year, biologists would expect a better than average fishing season seven years later.
Recent declines in the fishery match some of the historical data collected in Maine showing poor breeding classes. Likewise, better catches in the last couple of years match successful breeding catalogued seven years ago in Maine. The data collected in Marblehead will add to the overall picture of how and why lobsters are successful or unsuccessful in breeding.
The lobster fishery is unique in that it is one of the only commercial fishing enterprises not dominated by multi-national corporations. And, while most of us take lobsters and lobstermen for granted as a part of the New England scene, there are danger signs on the horizon.
The lobster fishery in Long Island Sound has all but disappeared as lobsters are being infected with a disease that makes them vulnerable to bacterial predation. The cause of the disease is still unknown, but increasingly researchers are focusing on pesticides sprayed to combat the West Nile Virus.
While a way of life is dying in Long Island Sound, here the fishery is thriving. Due to the fruitfulness of the Marblehead shoreline, the Marblehead team (currently just two people) is having trouble counting all the lobsters before the tide rushes back in. Anyone interested in participating, or even just learning about lobster biology is welcome to join the team on their future outings. To do so, contact Sean at 639-1791, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.