Maine Baby Lobster Decline Could Be Felt On Dinner Tables Nationwide
Seeing lobster on the menu could become a rarity nationwide if populations continue to decline in Maine.
According to scientists, the number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine are showing a steady decline - possibly foreshadowing an end to the recent record catches that have boosted New England's lobster fishery, reports The News Journal.
A study by the University of Maine survey indicates that young lobsters have declined by more than half of their 2007 levels.
The study looked into lobster numbers in 11 Gulf of Maine locations.
The find is significant as lobsters typically take about eight years to reach the legal harvesting size, according to News Journal.
The steady decline has many lobstermen and retailers concerned that the impact could soon be felt on dinner tables nationwide.
Maine lobsters were 85 percent of the nation's lobster catch in 2012, writes The News Journal.
Scientists say lobsters are very sensitive to even subtle changes in temperature - signaling warmer ocean temperatures, pollution, atmospheric conditions, a rise in predators and food availability could all be to blame, according to News Journal.
Despite claims of overfishing by environmental groups, the Maine Department of Marine Resources officials say the decline does not appear to have been caused by this.
Maine's lobster industry has been subject to record hauls over the last three years. More than 350 million pounds of catches have been recorded - by far the most for any three-year period, according to state data going back to 1880, writes The News Journal.
The value of the catch climbed over $1 billion for the first time.
The boom in lobster catches in recent years follows a trend of heavy lobster settlement in the mid-2000s, university scientists told The News Journal.
But that pace might not be sustainable, Carl Wilson, the state's lobster biologist, told News Journal.
"It's our first indicator that things might be changing in the future," Wilson said. "Low settlement, it's thought, in the future will lead to lower landings."
Maine lobsters' eggs hatch in the early summer and larvae swim freely about six to eight weeks before settling at the ocean bottom as inch-long post-larvae, writes The News Journal.
Settlement rates had been tracked by divers from the University of Maine since the late 1980s.
The American Lobster Settlement Index tracks 13 settlement areas, 11 of which are in the Gulf of Maine, two in Canada and three in Massachusetts. All show decline, scientists said.
Retailers are monitoring the downward trend among baby lobster settlement, Pete McAleney, a past president of the Maine Import Export Lobster Dealer's Association, told News Journal.
He acknowledged the cyclical nature of settlement and catch.
"It makes sense that it's going to happen after a while, because the catch has been sky high," McAleney said.