Sustaining a thriving lobster fishery through science and community.
Lessons Learned From Harpswell Surveys 1995-1997
In 1995, TLC scientist, Dr. Diane Cowan trained volunteers to survey 12 geographically separate locations scattered throughout Harpswell, Maine. This project was intended as a pilot study to develop a monitoring technique that could later be used to assess the continued health and productivity of lobster nursery areas in any towns where they occur in the lower intertidal zone . TLC's initial purpose in selecting Harpswell was that it wanted to share these surveying methods with community volunteers who have a vested interest in their community's resources (many of whom are lobster fishers themselves or spouses, sons, and daughters of fishers) and who probably would not be otherwise exposed to scientific training. However, this program can be easily transferred to other scientists who can train volunteers in their local communities.
In the years since the launch of this pilot study, Dr. Cowans work has developed into the Juvenile Lobster Monitoring Program. Volunteers now number in the 70s. The number of sites has also expanded from the original 12 to 22 in the 2003 season, including 2 in New Hampshire and 3 in Massachusetts. In addition to our volunteer-based sampling, Diane Cowan and other TLC staff collect data monthly on a year-round basis at 3 additional monitoring sites: Lowells Cove in Casco Bay, Maine and Allen Island and Friendship Long Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine. The long-term and recapture program at these sites allows us to investigate lobster growth, survival, movements, and degree of site fidelity.
The benefits of having volunteers participate in the Intertidal Lobster Monitoring Program are many. They include:
The training program worked well for most of the volunteers. Volunteers who had previous experience with lobsters were the best trainees -- specifically lobster harvesters and their families -- because of their familiarity with the animal and prior experience with handling lobsters. Inexperienced volunteers needed more training than they were given. To eliminate this problem, 1997's most dedicated and skilled volunteers will be paired with new volunteers in the future. Furthermore, certain currently trained volunteers can now train new volunteers, freeing up TLC's scientists to better manage the data. Many of the volunteers want to participate in the Intertidal Lobster Monitoring Program again in 1998. Some even want to continue their sampling during the cold winter months. Two have volunteered to serve as coordinators. Now that the equipment has been purchased and a volunteer sampling packet has been developed, the project can continue at minimum expense (such as expendable supplies and photocopying).
We encourage anyone who wishes to participate to contact us at (207)832-8224. In terms of sharing this monitoring program with other towns, an initial survey must be done to identify lobster nursery habitats elsewhere, just as we did in Harpswell in 1995. Volunteers were generally unable to identify the nursery areas without the aid of the biologist. Please note, however, that you cannot just start such a program immediately by yourself. You must coordinate with your state's fishery commission to obtain the necessary permits to handle undersized lobsters, or with The Lobster Conservancy who has permission to do this research in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.