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Author Topic: IMEP #134 Part 2 - New England Lobster Habitats in 1890  (Read 5077 times)
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« on: March 22, 2024, 05:39:38 PM »

IMEP #134 - Part 2
New England Lobster Habitats in 1890
Southern New England Lobster Habitats Fail in High Heat
Understanding Science Through History
Climate Change Impacts Can Reverse Species
Native American Fisheries May Have Important Climate Information
Viewpoint of Tim Visel – No other agency or organization
Thank you, The Blue Crab ForumTM for posting these Habitat History newsletters – over 300,000 views to date
Tim Visel retired from The Sound School June 2022
This is a delayed report – December, 2023

Lobster Size Increases as a Conservation Measure

The concept of having larger lobsters living in shallow water during very high sea water temperatures does not have a foundation in basic lobster biology.  That outcome is not attainable.  Increasing the amounts of larger adults competing for limited habitats would increase intra species competition, in other words the chief diet of lobsters would now be other lobsters.  In fact, in the face of a wide spread habitat failure in southern New England raising the gauge (legal lobster size) works against capacity for the young and that we should review all documents related to the last lobster die off of 1898-1905 in states which lobster hatcheries were built (email of January 6, 2016 to Megan Ware of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) (See Appendix #2, Part 1).  This would be a voluntary effort for states that had built lobster hatcheries and perhaps still retained unpublished “grey” habitat literature to review, which still exists.

In April 2017, the concept of additional gauge increases a letter to Megan Ware from Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission suggested the habitat capacity restraints, and suggested lobster hatchery and reef building (in cooler deeper water) as possible alternatives to gauge increases at a March 17, 2017 CT Public Hearing (See Appendix #1: Communication, Megan Ware, ASFMC).

We can go back to 1792 to 1814, a period of increasing heat in southern New England, and review the lobster fisheries.  From 1812 to 1814, tension was reported as the Cape Cod region sought to exclude Connecticut lobster smacks from local waters.  It is thought that Long Island Sound had already suffered a lobster decline, causing Connecticut vessels to move to the north. This would also occur to the Niantic Bay Halibut Fleet – also, fishing Halibut grounds became “exhausted.” The Connecticut Halibut Fleet moved north into the regions of Massachusetts, including those of Maine.  Following is a section of an account written by Nelson J. Huntley that describes the decline of the Niantic Bay Halibut Fleet in 1906 (The Passing of the Fishery Fleet by Nelson J. Huntley, East Lyme Public Library, 1997) -- as water temperatures increased, the Niantic Halibut live wells, according to Huntley, became “black holes of Calcutta.”  Fish could no longer live in the live wells.  The US Fish Commission 1887 confirms the account in the Fishing Grounds The Fresh Halibut Fishery – my comments, T. Visel (   ):

“Mr. Charles P. Tripland tells us (US Fish Commission, T. Visel) that previous to 1858, Halibut were caught by Connecticut vessels wholly on handlines and only welled smacks were employed.”

The importance of the northern fishing fleets for trade and hard currency (the natural resource aspect of “new dollars” into the economy) promoted the cod bounty that replaced the “pickled fish” federal subsidies of dried or salted fish (pickled) sold abroad.  This was to offset a large import duty on salt – the primary method for preserving cod for export.  In 1792, that part was replaced by a general cod bounty to those fishers who fished at least four months of the year irregardless if cod was exported or sold to local markets (Maine Sea Fisheries The Rise and Fall of a Native Industry by Wayne M. O’Leary, 1996).  Cod was valued for its ability to be shipped and had numerous commercial markets.  The lobster, however, was not salted nor could survive the several months’ transit to distant ports.  The first mentions of the fishery was it was so easy to catch it was the food of the poor. 

The year 1792 was also the beginning of huge investment in Connecticut’s silk industry, also a product of high export value (or substituted for imports).  It was warm enough to support the silkworm Bombyx mori but also marked the return of malaria to the Connecticut River Valley.  Charles Chapin – The Origins and Progress of the Malarial Fever Now Prevalent in New England (1884) mentions this period on pg. 4:

“From 1792 to 1880, while the western part of the state was suffering from Malaria, it was also prevalent in several towns in the Connecticut valley as Northampton, Deerfield, Hatfield and Greenfield – Connecticut – from 1796 to 1799, malaria prevailed in New Milford.”

We need to include climate influences in fishery management decisions – my view, Tim Visel.

The Kelp Forests Return After 1938 with Cooler Temperatures

One of the habitat indicators of a return of the lobsters is the return of the kelp-cobblestone forests.  Many winter flounder fishers may recall fishing for winter flounder off sand bars in the 1950’s and 1960’s and accidental hooking of the kelp hold fast attached to a small cobble stone – instead of landing a large fish a ribbon of brown kelp and stone came aboard instead.  Another sign is after a powerful Nor’easter Storm kelp balls would be cast up on beaches.  This also happened after 1938 hurricane.  In the 1870’s Connecticut’s agriculture history includes coastal farmers gathering seaweeds during storms (The Madison Post Office – Madison, CT has a mural painting done in the 1930’s of this process in the 1870’s with oxen and cattle carts).  These offshore kelp forests would be ripped up and cast along beaches, sometimes a few feet deep.  Farmers noticed the fertilizer effect of seaweed rich in nutrients, essential plant metals and sugars to feed bacteria which facilitated ion exchanges to help plants grow.  The use of seaweed was an important soil conditioner and plant food supplement.  New England farmers had become accustomed to large amounts of rock weed Ascophyllum nodosum and kelp (Saccharina latissima) ribbons weed cast up on New England coasts which easily composted in acidic soils. The Rhode Island Agriculture Experiment Station by 1893 listed the fertilizer materials for rockweed (two species) ribbon weed and kelp.

(See The Report of the Commissioner for the year ending June 30, 1902 US Commission of Fish and Fisheries part 28 Charles H. Stevenson – Fertilizers From Aquatic Products, pp. 177-279.)

But besides the fertilizer use, it provided an excellent reef habitat that small lobsters need in CT – Long Island Sound.  Although much of Connecticut’s coast contains a rock shore Long Island Sound was once a lake and as such obtained soil and sands from land, smoothing the bottom and reducing reef profiles.  Glaciers did leave small ground up rock and in time became a round smooth deposits in high energy areas were termed a cobblestone after small stones used to pave streets. 

After the 1938 Hurricane, large sections of Connecticut coast were stripped of loose sand and shores badly eroded, but cobblestone in its glacial till were harder to move and sometimes were found between the low tide line and offshore sand bars.  In shallow water and relatively stable areas, these stones then supported the hold fasts of kelp – the habitats that kelp needs to grip (the hold fast is a good term for the tough finger like structure that surrounds the cobblestone) and in time grows over it.  As the kelp body ribbon begins to grow it slows the water and provides the features that help stage four lobsters – a place to hide from predators (especially winter flounder and tautog) and to search out small mollusks to eat themselves. But all of this needs banks of cobblestones in high to medium energy areas.  The 1938 Hurricane was perhaps the worst storm since 1815 and forever changed the “shoreline” by removing beach sands and leaving cobblestones where once sandy beaches stood.  Many homes and cottages built between 1890 and 1938 were destroyed along many former sandy shorelines and now had stones and boulders in what was before “the beach.”   

But the large kelp beds of the region of the 1870’s and 1880’s were much less abundant in the 1890 to 1910 period as farmers complained about the lack of wrack and now cutting live rockweed and kelp replaced hauling after storms.  The frequency of storms and their intensity declined, reducing the wrack of seaweed.  From “Manure From The Sea” by E. H. Jenkins and John Phillips Street of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 194 July 1917 (New Haven, CT) contains these statements –

“Public attention has been frequently called to certain kelps found on the pacific coast, which contain relatively large quantities of potash.  So far as known, however, none of the marine growths on the Atlantic Coast contain any large amount of that element.”

And the increase of eelgrass at this time of heat and fewer numbers of storms – was not valued as a fertilizer.

“Eelgrass as has been said is of inferior value, as gathered, it contains less plant food and it is slow to decay.  Partly dried it can be used for protection from frost, and in the pig pen it is on absorbent and adds to the organic matter of the manure.  It does not pay as top dressing or to plow under unless it has been well rotted.”

(See Bulletin #21 Rhode Island Experiment Station 1892 “Seaweeds.  Their Agricultural Value the Chemical Composition of Certain Species,” H. J. Wheeler and B. I. Hatwell.)

This is the time that seaweed rights appear in the agriculture history and in deeds in land records.  In a Wrack Lines Connecticut Sea Grant newsletter Spring/Summer 2010 was an article titled “Pine Island: An Island Exploration” by Syma A. Ebbin.  On page 17 the history of its land records includes a transfer in 1835 “the right of taking (gathering) 50 tons of rock weed annually from the shores of said island” for Capt. Mark Stoddard of Montville “during his natural life.”  In time, the island would contain a fertilizer factory until Pine Island was purchased by Morton F. Plant in 1903 for an estate.

So valued was kelp for fertilizer is that it was discussed as a species worthy of propagation (Aquaculture) and to do so suggested by planting stones to obtain growths, from “Fertilizer Resources of the United States” – 62 Congress Senate document #190 Washington, DC, 1912, submitted by William H. Taft, President, Appendix Q, pg. 232 – has this section on kelp that includes important food uses (kelp discussions are most of this 1912 report, which is 277 pages):

“On the coast of Europe the kelp is gathered from the beaches, where it has been washed up by waves or is cut by hand from its beds exposed at low tide.”

Algae – Cultural Methods – mentioned 1912, T. Visel comments in (   ):

“There is one particular (strain – T. Visel) in which their propagating can be promoted and that is constructing a bottom upon which the young plants can find anchorage.  The growth of the plant (kelp species – T. Visel) depends on its being able to find a firm anchorage in regions when the other conditions are favorable.  For its development, a rocky bottom is essential.  Kelp might be propagated then, in certain regions now barren of the growth by scattering stones over the sandy bottoms.  Before such steps are taken, however, to provide anchorage for the young plants, it should be as curtained whether the condition of the bottom is suitable.”

And page 134 contains a reference to lobster habitat, The Race in eastern Long Island Sound,

“D. C. Eaton mentions (1873) pg. 34 “The Lobster Fishers (from a depth of 25 fathoms (50 meters) of the eastern end and of Long Island Sound claim that they find lobsters among kelps in the Race.”   

And also,

“On sandy or muddy shores or bottom, as well as on those composed of shales and other disintegrating rocks, indeed even on gravelly and shelly bottoms where other algae may abound the no growth of the laminaria ceases to be expected.  On the other hand, the rocky and stony shores and bottoms of the temperature and frigid waters, where other physical conditions are at all favorable, a luxuriant growth of laminaria may be expected.  This is especially true of colder waters.”

In heat, eelgrass would dominate vast sections of the coast but after the 1938 hurricane that would now be kelp and with the return of colder temperature, kelp beds.

Temperature would also have a huge role after 1938 cobblestones would be cleared of decades of silt and a negative NAO – cooler with more powerful storms allowed kelp forests to return..

Quote from the 1912 publication referred above – pg. 137

“From what has been detailed above, it seems that in the shores of the oceans, apart from localities affected by particular conditions.  Otherwise, the temperature of the water is the controlling factor in deciding and limiting the distribution of the laminaria.”

Nowhere else is the connection to the NAO more apparent than the reversal between eelgrass and blue crabs and kelp to lobsters than in southern New England.  The temperature and energy relationship mentioned for kelp – is when waters are cool here kelp does better.  The 1890’s to 1910’s saw eelgrass dominate shallow marine soils cultivated during the much stormier and very cold 1870’s. The warming after 1885 benefited the eelgrass/blue crab association while kelp and lobsters declined –with lobsters suffering a region wide die off between 1898 and 1905 (Lobster resource managers would meet in Boston on September 23 & 24, 1903 to discuss the Lobster Problem (See IMEP #62: The New England Lobster Convention of 1903, posted April 6, 2017, the Blue Crab Forum™ Eeling, Oystering, and Fishing thread).

The 1890’s a period of extreme heat and few storms produced relatively stable shorelines (this would prove to be heartbreaking when after a long absence a negative NAO returns to southern New England after 1931) inlets healed and organic matter covered shallow water eelgrass which now gathered organics into a peat.  As the decades progressed cobblestones were covered and in high heat kelp transitioned into eelgrass.  Eelgrass meadows rose and fostered sulfur bacteria who unlike oxygen bacteria of cold water are incredibly slow composters.  In time eelgrass had built up a root peat of several feet or more over the old or previous bottoms.  Kelp now was scarce but so was the inshore lobster who in high heat died off – a lobster collapse of gigantic scale, both water temperature and energy had turned against the lobster and as it declined, blue crabs now increased most noticeable in Narragansett Bay.  Fishery managers in Rhode Island noted and recorded in articles – including an article about a growing blue crab soft shell shedding industry in Rhode Island in 1903 (See 1904 Rhode Island Report by E. W. Barnes).  But all that changed in the 1920’s now a series of bitter winters set eelgrass up for its own demise, as what happened to kelp – now happens to it, much of that by the bacteria of the peat in which it helped collect.  As the waters cooled from the 1880-1920 Great Heat (as John C. Hammond described this period) habitats now reversed (See IMEP #41 to IMEP #45, 2014 for a more detailed habitat description of Mr. Hammond’s habitat/clock, habitat reversal observations around the NAO climate cycle on The Blue Crab Forum™ Eeling, Oystering, and Fishing thread).
Colder seawater now contained more oxygen and the oxygen-requiring bacteria now vanquished the slower sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) at the surface, a type of bacterial war ensued.  The compost that eelgrass had collected now started to be digested leaving eelgrass root tissue exposed and loose.  When storms arrived (also part of a growing negative NAO), oxygen was thrust into the sulfide rich sapropel and generating acid (sulfuric) conditions that weakened roots and any storm now ripped up eelgrass roots exposing soft sulfide sapropel below – as more and more sapropel “melted” away.  In some areas, eelgrass/sapropel disappeared so by 1938 the sands of the shore dune roots of beach grass alone held these coastal sands.  When the 1938 Hurricane arrived, the eelgrass was nearly gone – cobblestones would be washed free of sand and organic matter and in hundreds of acres in bands along the shore now provided key habitat space – now it was kelps turn to “return.” 

Colder water naturally helped oxygen saturation levels, and the increase in shallow kelp on cobblestones now provided a key habitat for small stage 4 lobsters.  This is the time in which blue crabs started a downhill slide –as lobsters again became prevalent in cooler/more energy filled waters.  By the middle 1950’s as the negative NOA strengthened, many of the lobster hatcheries built after the 1898 lobster die offs closed but one the one on Martha’s Vineyard operated by the State of Massachusetts and then later by a friend (who sadly has passed away) Mike Syslo.  When any lobster of unusual color or pigmentation was caught, I had it sent to Mike from 1984 to 1994 as efforts then were on developing genetic markers.

The Lobster Fishery “Ruin”

The extent lobster collapse of 1898 caught southern New England fishery managers by surprise.  As landings increased management efforts up till this point were to allow lobsters to become larger capable of carrying eggs and to end the practice of lobster egg stuffing – especially in Massachusetts.  Over time, lengths were established and the practice of lobster egg stuffing ended.  However, by 1902 with the collapse getting worse each month Massachusetts passed legislation (Chapter 348, Acts of 1903) to hold a “convention of the fish and game commissioners of the lobster – producing states and of the British provinces to meet at Boston during the year nineteen hundred and three,” (and put up 200 dollars to cover the cost).  A one-day convention was held in room 249 of the State House Sept. 23, 1903 and lobster tours conducted Sept. 24, 1903.  It was to be a unifying convention with Joseph W. Collins chairman and Dr. George W. Field its secretary.  These two individuals would each have pivotal roles, Joseph Collins (who would eventually be the one who wrote the meeting minutes although Dr. Field would issue a separate report years later – Collins felt that poor regulations (overfishing) had caused the collapse but from the meeting minutes George W. Field’s support for lobster hatcheries add to a climate perspective of warming.  The climate change perspective was made by the strong statements of fishery managers of Rhode Island – led by a Rhode Island fisheries commissioner Mr. Southwick of Newport Rhode Island – noting an increase in lobster disease (the 1890’s brought extreme heat to New England) and other concerns as predation to the convention not just overfishing and these people had critical views, Southwick for climate, Collins for more regulation and Dr. Field for aquaculture.  Southwick mentions the predator – prey relationship -

Southwick reading a position paper -

“Yet there is another peril, which we have not mentioned – the diseases for which they were subject, for we cannot believe they are immune from what attacks other forms of life.  The ever varying conditions that exist on the surface of the earth doubtless exist in as large measure at the bottom of the ocean – in that part occupied by the fishes.  Just what effect is produced by these changes we will not attempt to solve at this time.”   

Commissioner Southwick also urged convention attendees to consider the predation of small lobsters by then large numbers of bluefish and black sea bass – even mentioning eels now feeding off female eggers.  Black sea bass had surged during the warm to “hot term” and the increase predation alarmed Rhode Island fishery managers eels also appeared to increase into his heat as well - my comments, T. Visel (   ):

“After arrival at the bottom the lobster’s existence is continually imperiled although he has passed the period of greatest mortality. Here is beset by the blackfish codfish and sea bass, who are particularly fond of these young fellows (lobsters T. Visel) and continued to like them after they develop to adult age and size”

Southwick (also mentioned the impact of eels consuming eggs) and to further challenge the concept of uniform regulations (promoted by Joseph Collins) as having the desired impact – now speaking on behalf of all Rhode Island Commissioners, Southwick then includes this sentence.

“For ourselves we think that any calculation of the inhabitants of the great deep, which ignores the fluctuations caused by nature, very fallacious” (strong words for a convention that was organized to promote unified regulations – T. Visel).

Maine did not help form a unified approach to regulations stating while the southern New England lobster catches have declined – Maine’s lobster catch was increasing. Here Joseph Collins mentions an increasing element in Marine lobster fishery – an expanding winter fishery mentioned by Maine Sea and Shore Fisheries Commissioner Nickerson as evidenced by increased catches.  Joseph Collins mentions this increase in fishing days (larger growing/fishing season) and that vessels now seek lobsters offshore in deeper (cooler waters) – catching more lobsters.

Collins – “Now the boats sometimes go out ten or fifteen miles from land to fish (In the 1870’s lobsters were dense in the shallows) and fully investigate fishing grounds that they did not venture to visit five or six years ago – thus the area of available bottom resorted to has been doubled.”  (Collins as a boy recounts how in the 1870s the shallows held many lobsters).  And then counters Rhode Island’s claim of predators and climate and Maine increasing catch by pointing out the shallows (those areas likely to show the impacts of high heat) now contains less lobsters.  (He was correct about that – T. Visel).

Collins – I (Contend) – this has led to a slight increase in the Maine catch from year to year for the past four years because more and more of the hardy fishermen have taken up winter fishing each year recently but, so far as showing any actual increase in the general abundance of the lobster, the contrary is true, far, as already started, there is a pronounced scarcity of lobster on many inshore of the inshore grounds, where they were formerly present in large numbers.” 

He referred to the 1870’s of extreme cold and frequent storms that would cast lobsters on the beaches and for those walking they could be easily seen.  What was not mentioned was the heat, and the fact winters now held less severe storms.  In fact, recent winters were so warm “ice famines” had occurred.  (As the Hudson River ice industry failed, Maine ice production and profits soared in the 1890’s.)  This has been referred to as “tunnel vision” – a view narrow to only consider narrow past events as to looking at multiple disciplines for possible explanations.  Looking at other factors would have tipped the balance that it was getting hotter in New England.

Although US Fish Commissioner member Joseph Collins attempted to redirect discussions from climate to overfishing, the conference attendees left its two-day meeting deeply split on uniform regulations (size) and a region wide closed season.  But it was the statement by the northern provinces of Canada that perhaps did the most damage – they would never agree “lobsters are climatic – the difference in the legal lengths permitted by our regulations is explained in this way.”  The difference in growth rates are indeed temperature related – and this was known by maritime lobster managers over a century ago.

On the first day of the conference at the end, selected members of the lobster industry came in to comment at 2:15 pm (lobster dealers and Robert Conwell of Provincetown) with the formal meeting ending at 5:30 pm.  Mr. Conwell suggested the use of escape vents – a practice already in place on Cape Cod that lets smaller lobsters escape “they are not even caught.”  Other industry speakers supporting the length law and protection of eggers/and licensing.  All these suggestions were included as policy recommendations.

Only five lobster industry speakers presented – and at 3:22 pm a little over an hour, Mr. Geer of Connecticut moved the meeting go into executive session and write the recommendations.  The next day several attendees had a boat tour of the Boston Harbor although no formal business is reported to have been conducted, many members of the convention were on the harbor tour.  In the write up (that is on the internet) nearly all the industry suggestions or industry practices were supported – the concept of a region wide closure and uniform lobster length was not.  But the division between Collins and Dr. Field who strongly supported Rhode Island’s position and openly praised its lobster hatchery efforts (which he had in fact help develop) drew a rebuke – here on pp. 49-50 Collins writes – my comments, T. Visel (   ):

“In regard to the plan advanced by Dr. Field (to continue lobster hatchery efforts – T. Visel) the convention was impressed with the idea that the experimentation had not been carried for enough to take the matter beyond the plain of theoretic speculation and therefore it was scarcely safe at this time to risk an entire change of the system of lobster protection.”

In so many words, the US Fish Commission was going to stay with uniform regulations (the harvest and sale of shorts did take up much of the conference) while Rhode Island wanted broader discussions, predators and disease as “foes” as well.  Canadian officials did use the term climatic and they had different rules based upon water temperature and mentioned the climate as factors for these different rules. 

Rhode Island officials did not accept the strict regulatory approach and for nearly a century held to a smaller “legal size” lobster and for their habitats they were absolutely correct - when you have habitat limitations and in this case fewer rocks or reefs larger lobsters just means fewer lobsters as larger lobsters would need larger habitats, and could impact carrying capacity – a natural mortality event. Rhode Island officials mentioned in shallow water habitat space was limiting and they would just consume each other.  Another aspect the predators of lobster predators was also mentioned by Rhode Island officials.  From Southwick Paper – The Lobster, His Foes And His Friends (during this time of heat bluefish populations were very high and consumed enormous amounts of “Prey” species – T. Visel.  My comments in (  ).

“Having considered the enemies of the lobster, we now pass to inquire about his friends.  I know many will exclaim, “He has none.”  But we are sure that is wrong, for every fish commissioner thinks he is one, besides he had friends among the fishes, and perhaps his best friend is that most predaceous among them allowing the bluefish.  He does not eat them, but he does destroy hosts of enemies of their young, as professor Baird has shown us.  (This refers to studies on the predation of bluefish of menhaden by Spencer Baird of the US Fish Commission – T. Visel).  Besides the bluefish furnishes them food from the remains of his prey (most likely a reference to menhaden – T. Visel) which he leaves in his wake, these (remains T. Visel) settle to the bottom, and at times the lobsters thus get an abundant supply.  Except for this source, it is hard to see how they would get their necessary food.  Other fishes also help them in like manner and can well be called friends to the lobsters.” 

In reading the report and some newspaper articles that proceeded it, I think Joseph Collins was looking for a rubber stamp.  Unified regulations and a region wide closed season but that was not going to be the case.  Instead of blaming the fishery (overfishing) which was a so customary, a knee jerk Rhode Island protest and “called out” this intention for everyone to see, reading from a report (Mr. Southwick’s report about science he carried to meeting).  From Southwick paper The Lobster, His Foes And His Friends “what is the cause of diminished size and decreased numbers? 

“Admitting that both are true, these are important matters in the settlement of the very great questions how to stop a reduction and how to cause an increase of lobsters in our waters.  If we can determine the cause we can better arrive at a conclusion as to what will be a remedy as a doctor first diagnoses his case before attempting to apply remedies.  Heretofore, remedies have been tried with no better result than generally follow quack practice.”

I think the mention of quack science and the fact Rhode Island had prepared this response, as they came with copies of the position statement already typed titled, "The Lobster, His Foes And His Friends" and that Commissioner Southwick read directly from the report – perhaps to ensure it did make it into the records.  It is important to note that states were setting up independent research programs outside of the US Fish Commission – promoted of course by Dr. Field, and that these gave states a different point of view and apparently Rhode Island had no such rubber stamp for the US Fish Commission.  Time after the meeting now allows a review of the climate factors occurring in southern New England at that period – halfway into the 40-year period of great heat.  It is also important to review what had happened in Rhode Island before Commissioner Southwick read his paper at the convention – (and I think mention of the increase blue crab “the crab question” were not in the minutes) was climate habitat impacts was not included.  Some important items include (we call these “proxies” (events) today indicators of massive climate shifts during this period.

1896 -       A massive die off of fish in Point Judith Pond (others to follow)
1897 -   Failure of bay scallops in deep water beds, lobsters noted leaving the shallows.     
1898 -   “A plague descends among Upper Narragansett Bay” A. D. Mead Brown University documents red tide bloom. Rhode Island begins Narraganset Bay survey).
1899 -   George W. Field notes that the stench of sulfide from PT. Judith pond threatens to turn it into a “bog hold.”  Block Island fishers report seeing strange schools of fish.  Southern New England lobster resource declines.
1900 -    First lobster experiments at Wickford Harbor as tagged lobsters leave Narragansett Bay to deeper water.  Oyster sets increase.
1901 -   Fish trappers complain about black sea bass, sharp gill plates that rip linen and cotton twine of fish pounds.
1902 -   Tarpon Caught in Dutch Harbor – Rhode Island, Maine lobster catch increases.
1903 -   Rhode Island includes report about a growing blue crab soft shell trade – as blue crab populations increase in Narragansett Bay.
1903 -    Massachusetts hosts a region wide Lobster Convention, Boston, Mass, September 1903, which responds to a dramatic lobster dieoff in shallows.
1904 -    Rhode Island oyster landings reach 4 million pounds, 15 million by 1910.
1904 -   E.W. Barnes predicts Rhode Island to lead in the production of the softshell crab.
1905 -   A small Barracuda seined at Willow Beach near Wickford July 17, 1905.

But a review of the climate record, other population trends included the Connecticut Fish and Game Commissioners, believing brook trout was now functionally extinct in 1901.  However, duck hunters now enjoyed “open winters” no ice with huge brant populations feeding upon lush eelgrass growths – which as eelgrass increased so did the blue crab.  In 1899 southern New England had an “ice famine” waters were so warm ice did not make up and its commercial losses significant but also to those who needed ice in the summer heat which produced massive “killer heat waves.”  Tens of thousands of central cities sought relief of these events at cool shores.  Hundreds of people perished during these heat waves.  As lobsters became scarce, the surge of blue crabs in Narragansett Bay became the “crab question.”

Eelgrass benefited from this heat, farmers complained that valuable kelp fertilizer (which prefers cool water) now became scarce – it just was not abundant and absent strong storms just did provide the wrack to harvest.  Salt hay crops failed in southern New England, marshes became so soft, horse drawn cutters sank in pools, horses had to wear special marsh (wide) shoes and a new threat of mosquito disease (Malaria) in southern Connecticut prompted Connecticut officials to declare salt marshes a public nuisance in 1895.  (Some later CT Health directives included filling and draining of salt marshes).

Noank, CT once the commercial center of the southern CT lobster trade show saw them vanish to be replaced with the blue crab.  Local hotels mentioned torch lighting for blue crabs as a recreational activity.

During this great heat, 1880 to 1920, Noank would now support tourist and city dwellers anxious to escape the heat and disease outbreaks to summer in eastern CT near “cool waters and shore breezes.”  Hotels advertised that rooms came with access to a small row boat and blue crab net.

(Noank, because of its lobstering history, would in time become the site of Connecticut’s lobster hatchery – it is now today a shellfish cooperative).

As bay scallop populations collapsed in Narragansett Bay (although much has been written about the habitat association between bay scallops and eelgrass as being positive it is actually profoundly negative – high eelgrass coverage in the historical record is also the time of lowest bay scallop abundance – T. Visel).  Oysters became abundant with huge natural sets along the Connecticut shore.  In the 1890’s, quahog sets failed as soft shell clams set heavily along the upper Narraganset Bay shores, peaking between 1901 and 1906.  This is the great seafood reversal that John Hammond frequently mentioned to me during meetings on Cape Cod.

What happened was a massive climate cycle a positive NAO, few storms, less rainfall and incredible heat.  We have so many climate proxies to follow but the best is the decline of eelgrass in cold and increase of kelp after heat subsides.  These habitats often overlap to a large extent and as eelgrass helps the blue crab, kelp is critical to lobsters.  They both reverse according to temperature and energy (as John Hammond on Cape Cod predicted almost four decades ago) and now we can go back and review the 1898 lobster die off with the die off of 1998 a century apart to learn more about lobster habitat capacity. 

In that regard, much can be learned from long ago shell middens left by First Nation peoples.  Initially admired for their size and depth and commercial value of lime, their presence, especially for oysters and blue crabs, could hold climate records over thousands of years.  Reports to our south with fine mesh screens found blue crab claws amongst the oyster shells in the Chesapeake region (See January 2018, Journal of Archeological Science titled “Archeology, Taphonomy and Historical Ecology of Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs,” Hines et al., 2015).  Researchers, using very fine mesh screens, found just the tips of blue crabs that remained in these Native American archeological sites. 

The shell deposits detailed by Harold Castner (1950), A Historic Trilogy by Harold W. Castner, The Prehistoric Oyster Shell Heaps of the Damariscotta River Maine, were deposited in three layers over 10-feet deep in some areas.  By the 1950’s, this oyster Crassostrea virginica had stopped reproducing in Maine waters.  It was then too cold.  A non-native oyster species was introduced that preferred cooler temperatures, which were known as Ostrea edulis.  There is a strong habitat relationship of blue crabs and lobsters to shell hash.  The habitat association can be found today in habitats south of Maine, but I suspect that blue crabs were even in Maine if oysters in Maine flourished for decades.  They prefer warmer temperatures in the mid-70’s for seawater.  Shallow coves and rivers (shallow areas) may have reached 80oF, well within the range of the blue crab.  These ancient remains of seafood bakes may contain information on blue crabs and lobsters, and like those of the Chesapeake, deserve a second look – with fine mesh screens – my view, Tim Visel.

Regulation is largely ineffective when responding to climate
changes in habitat quality

Man both creates and is bound by history and no better example exists than the lobster fishery of New England.  When the first settlers arrived here they brought their history of seafood with them.  Joy for the species they knew and valued, cod fish for example or any “Whitefish” and those species that were unknown or now shunned.  Lobsters fit into that second category, not valued at first except for fertilizer and food for pigs, but later for food.  US Fish Commission reports mention that the lobster fishery is rather recent after 1840. 

The colonial history of lobsters as food is rather mixed.  Early records mention great abundance but rather a second choice fare.  In fact, the lobster was referred to as the food of the poor and not regarded as a staple as compared to the salted flakes of cod.  I think the fact that lobsters spoiled quickly (salt cod could last for months) and quickly reeked of ammonia, its handling required in “live wells” small vessels with tanks created by sectioning of portions below deck.  By the 1810’s, Connecticut lobster vessels sought grounds off Cape Cod and to buy lobsters from the Massachusetts coast.  For the most part, lobsters were consumed along the coast where some roads made transportation possible.  Early records indicate that lobsters were used as animal feed, mostly for pigs.

We do know that the first European settlers arrived during a period of great cold and that is what our “northern” lobsters prefer.  By the 1790’s, our climate here had turned hotter and did support “sericulture,” the raising of the silkworm, which spun a cocoon of silk thread.  Connecticut imported thousands of white Mulberry trees, whose leaves were fed to the worms in attics (heat would be highest) (A section of Guilford, CT is still referred to as “Mulberry Point,” a reminder of this long ago industry).  In 1789, George Washington describes Connecticut’s silk as “exceedingly good.”  However, speculation would cause a huge increase in white Mulberry orchards while slowly Connecticut’s climate changed.  At first, silk producers noticed that the cocoons were more gummy (sericin) – a defense against cold.  By 1838, winters in Connecticut turned colder and a series of blizzards killed thousands of trees.  By the time Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden – Life in The Woods in 1854 with his famous quote “The world drinks from my well,” he refers to thick ice harvested from Walden Pond -- the Connecticut native grown silk industry was gone. 

The Native Americans knew better and depending upon climate conditions took advantage of crustaceans lobsters to the north and blue crabs to the south.  In warm periods, blue crabs crept up north, in cold period lobsters occurred to the south.  Mr. Emil Miller of Madison whose family once owned a large section of what is today Hammonasset State Park in Madison passed along some Native American history of the area – large ceremonial fire pits that contained the remains of shellfish feasts (bakes) long before the Mayflower and their remains at the end of Dudley Road called middens.  They are perhaps the only unbiased records we have of seafood abundance changes from climate cycles here in New England today – free of the overfishing, pollution, and global warming issues.  These issues were not of concern to them but each has a history itself and ones with much reflection to each other (my view). 

Did Native Americans concern themselves with bag limits, sizes of shellfish or species? – this is difficult to ascertain.  I feel that whatever was abundant and good to eat was consumed fresh along the coast.  They largely depended on what nature provided with chance that if one species was low, another perhaps was high.  This is not a part of our fisheries history, which lessens the nature or natural component, replacing it with a focus upon our actions – overfishing or pollution.  In fact, the creation of the US Fish Commission by President Grant, February 9, 1871, was in response to decreasing abundance of east coast fisheries.  The political aspect was clear – the investigation was towards human actions not climate change.  This point of view would be developed in subsequent reports, including those for the lobster fishery – that man alone is responsible for catch declines.  That leaves an open question of “What caused tremendous abundance?”  This bias of responsibility is an old one, especially over short periods of time – my view, Tim Visel.

History and Methods of the Fisheries – The Lobster Fishery by Richard Rathbun (1887)

This bias often reported in US Fish Commission publications seeks to place human actions (mostly overfishing) and eliminating the impact of climate.  Following is a segment in the History and Methods of the Fisheries, pg. 698 – my comments, T. Visel (   ):

“Fish are among the greatest enemies of lobsters and cod or known to consume enormous quantities, but nature has provided against their extinction by such means, and it is man alone who has disturbed the balance.”

Often, the rise and fall of fisheries are natural, and while we may contribute to overfishing, that in itself is not a complete explanation.  A climate factor could result in any fishing considered “over” natural recruitment.  We may find many answers to resource abundance questions (and climate cycles) by close examination of seafood/shell middens.

Mr. Miller detailed to me as the state developed the Miller family farm into Hammonasset State Park they discovered a huge ceremonial pit surrounded by bivalve shells.  This was at the end of Dudley Road at the original park entrance.  He thought the pit and charcoal were the remains of long ago “seafood bakes” and state trucks had to haul out stones that blocked the building site.  These stones had charcoal stains (Enil Miller, Tim Visel personal communications, 1970’s).

Seafood abundance changed here long before these current events.  Mr. Miller also told me of the first fisheries here along the beach (Hammonasset) which included the seining of very large lobsters – while seining for white fish – today we call menhaden – fishers call bunker.  These fish were sometimes rendered on the beach itself allowed to rancid (red herring) and oils separate before cooking and pressing.  Today this is still recognized as an activity that “stinks” (and it did) and the term “red herring” as something that is not very pleasant continues with us today.  Lobsters 2 to 4 feet long were caught, and earlier records a fathom (6 feet) and capture by spears.  The image of a 6-foot lobster along the Hammonasset Beach front is hard to imagine but now plausible.  Left along and in time the habitat carrying capacity would favor fewer yet larger lobsters as in our area.  We are habitat limited – miles of soft to sand bottom with nothing on it, no structure, few rocks – mostly sand and gravel left by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago – which in geologic time a very short period.  In this case a lobster that size at night would easily “rule” roaming for food which often was other lobsters.  That may describe the carrying capacity in our area.  The biology of lobsters comes into play as well, cannibals, they eat each other and have a temperament well let’s say at times less than cordial.  The habitat carrying capacity is defined not by reproduction but space – just so many lobsters can survive in a given area –there is just so much food and space.  Therefore, under limiting conditions, it would be natural to find fewer larger lobsters who would defend and live in space that could support them – that is what that space could “carry.”

Native Americans did not expend tremendous amounts of energy (calories) to capture seafood – they needed calories every day – there was no “market” forces insisting for certain species – if blue crabs were plentiful, then they ended up for dinner, if oysters were abundant then perhaps oysters.  Their shell middens would reflect what was around and easy to catch – giving us a look back at what climate/habitat conditions were present – as ratios and layers.  Several researchers including the Smithsonian Institution are looking at this now.  We should be able to learn not only what species were prevalent but also clues about some predator/prey species as well – conch and quahogs for example – starfish to oysters another.  (More bay scallops and quahogs in colder periods – more oysters and soft shells in warmer).  One could say demand has a large part in our fisheries – no demand- no one willing to exchange money or trade chances are the fishery did not exist.  Not all fisheries were sustainable as well, the changes in populations caused the first fleets – fishers who took ships to the fish as a way to capture those market species.  Fishing fleets are not new but signaled a new type of fishing – not for food but for commerce.  Fisheries came and went – fleets traveled in search of better marketable populations that could be sold.  I think that is one of the largest problems with sustainability over long periods of time is that many populations are just not – not by our fishing (although that is certainly a factor) but because habitat conditions change, predator/prey relationship change as well.  It is natural to have large fluctuations in fish whether we used them or not.  Fishers knew this and sought populations in distant waters – searching for the fish because constant long-term high populations were not natural – and for variety of reasons increased and then collapsed leaving them little choice they had to search, they had to move as the “fish moved” also.  We have no other better example perhaps than our own coasts.

The 200-mile limit was a double edge sword – it took away the ability to follow the fish – as they moved north into cooler water US fishers could no longer follow them - and similar to Native American tribes moved into lands that were not themselves often “sustainable” forced to endure what declining habitat capacity meant from them.  Diminished fish stocks upon which an increased fishing fleet hemmed in by boundaries could no longer follow the “buffalo” but forced to live on the stragglers who largely for some reason missed the migration.  That is the larger story of the codfish in New England as our waters here warmed habitat capacity declined – fish then “moved” north.  These cod fishers then concentrated on cooler pockets that held cod in habitat refugia.  That is the story of fisheries worldwide and the often the surge and decline just natural, when fishers can’t follow the fish, and markets dictate the species “overfishing” can occur but more often than not the fishery did not meet our definition of sustainability today.  That is most noticeable in the lobster fishery.  In many areas we have changed the carrying capacity (larger legal size) –and did not take that into regard changes (naturally) in habitat quality or quantity.  As the cod moved north – lobsters predation lessened and for a while increasing heat was not a foe, but a friend to lobsters (lobsters also grew quicker in heat).

By the 200-mile limit boundaries, New England fishers were put on a reservation, so to speak, but we can see similar impacts on other fisheries as well.  We can view these changes and review our fishing practices including for lobsters – by first reviewing our fisheries history – and New England provides some key information about lobsters – and finfish as well.  The most detailed by many reports is the lobster fishery – no longer shunned by coastal residents, a growing US market soon found good prices for lobsters – no longer buried as fertilizer or fed to pigs.  Lobsters became a fishery for money because we valued it.  We wanted constant supplies and we recorded catches.  As early as 1812, Long Island Sound vessels were fishing Cape Cod waters for lobsters.

Constant supplies needed constant reproductive success, constant habitat quality and a stable predator/prey relationship none of these are constant or even possible – habitat conditions change, predators change and populations vulnerable to the law of habitat succession.  It’s not the number of eggs but how many of those eggs survive – and is opposite most management policies which focus (or continue to focus) on the number of eggs.

Although much of the lobster fishery management continues to place a greater emphasis on adult reproduction – and not on the survival of young – the lobster fishery has accomplished that itself by feeding shorts – lobstering is more of an aquaculture system as well – that needs to be fully discussed but it is often left out of significant reports.

As long as the “aquaculture effect” is not included in habitat and recruitment studies something that most lobster fishers have already observed – they have by the industry itself helped small lobsters – to survive – by removing larger lobsters.  The industry has reduced cannibalism and in doing so increased habitat capacity.  Lobster traps have become “feeding stations” at the same time daylight release of shorts needs to be reviewed I watched dozens of times as blackfish dot out and kill small lobsters in shallow waters in CT.  The rise in blue crabs was followed by black seabass that fed upon blue crabs the size of nickels.  Nothing we could do could prevent this predation.

Regulations alone cannot make a warm period cooler, or forbid sulfate reduction by sulfur reducing bacteria.  Until we have a more complete habitat history picture – and include changes in habitat capacity from climate cycles effective management will be an illusion built upon a mirage – something that looks good at a distance but gives us an incomplete picture of our lobster fishery close up – my view – Timothy C. Visel. 

Appendix #1

Consider Habitat Enhancement and Hatcheries Upon Increasing Egg Survival

Communication, Megan Ware
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

April 6, 2017

To: Megan Ware, ASMFC

It was very nice meeting you recently at the Old Lyme Connecticut public hearing in response to Southern New England (Lobster) stock decline. Last year a paper regarding the lobster collapse 1898-1905 was included in the public comment section and perhaps this attached paper, IMEP #62 could be added as well.

I started this report after attending the 2016 Maine Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland Maine, it had been many years since I could attend a forum and had a great time. One item that did come up in several lobster discussions during the forum was climate, predator/prey and habitat bottlenecks, many of the same issues raised a century ago at the New England Lobster Convention of 1903. This two-day convention raised similar issues of climate, predation by fish and “water space” (habitat).

The 1903 convention discussed important issues concerning the 1898 lobster die off that started in the fall of 1898, lobster hatchery science was included and perhaps today habitat enhancement (artificial reefs) and hatchery transplants could be part of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Management options. Some excellent research regarding habitat enhancement occurred in Boothbay Maine in the middle 1960’s and later regarding the importance of kelp forests to southern New England’s lobster resource regarding this issue.

Perhaps lobster hatchery science and habitat enhancement (rubble/kelp reefs) could allow our very much diminished lobster fishery here to continue, offering any assistance to the Commission we may be able to provide.

Tim Visel, The Sound School

Appendix #2

Quiambaug Oysters Stonington, CT
New London, The Day, November 11, 1889
Fresh Water and a Hybrid Plant Has Destroyed Many Bivalves

Mystic Bridge, Nov. 11 – “The oyster crop in Quiambaug cove this year is nearly a total failure. Of some 4000 to 5000 bushel of seed oysters planted last spring a good part are dead and the rest are very poor and watery, with the exception of a few that have been taken up and transplanted near the shore and which are in fair condition. The main trouble, as far as can be learned, is caused by a cabbage like plant* (suspected to be sea lettuce, Ulva lactuca, as the growers often term it, Tim Visel), which grows over and entirely, covers the beds. It is also said the trouble is in part caused by the unusual amount of fresh water that has flowed into the cove the past spring and summer. A well-known Norwich oyster grower by the name of Church put in some 1200 to 1500 bushels of seed last spring. Despairing of their even fattening he came down about a week ago, dug up the whole lot and sorted them over. About half of them were dead. Church carried the remainder to Norwich and transplanted them, with the hope of their fattening up in time for market.
The first oysters ever grown in the cove were put in by one Horton 10 years ago. Not long after, he transferred his bed to Elias Davis, who in turn transferred it to one Price who increased the bed and sold the oysters around the country. Their general excellence soon gained for them a widespread reputation, causing other beds to be taken year by year until at the present time nearly all of the available space is occupied. The beds, for the most part, are owned by residents thereabouts but several large beds are owned by well-known oystermen. The oysters have thrived wonderfully and increased year by year up to the present time.”
{Sea lettuce is now suspected of producing a natural biocide in low oxygen conditions that is toxic to blue crab larvae (Journal of Experimental Maine Biology and Ecology 1985, Donna A. Johnson and Barbara C. Welsh, University of Connecticut).  It has occurred in Connecticut and forms dense matts and in 2012 Stonington, Connecticut experienced the sulfur smells of it again rotting in Stonington Borough.  High sulfides were shown to have an immediate impact upon oysters; they stopped feeding and meats became thin and watery, Paul Galtsoff, 1937, York River Studies – Tim Visel.}

Appendix #3

Stonington – The Stink Has Returned
A Century later “Odor raises a stink in Stonington,” The Day Newspaper
By Joe Wojtas, Day Staff Writer, June 7, 2012

“Diving Street resident Geoffrey Little said that for the past several weeks he and his borough neighbors have suffered from irritated coughs and eyes and have been awakened by severe headaches, which they attribute to the hydrogen sulfide smell emanating from nearby rotting algae.
That algae has attached itself to large amounts of seaweed that has washed ashore and has also formed a crust atop the shallow water between two jetties at the end of Ash Street, which is one block over from Little’s home.  On Wednesday, the small shoreline area with little tidal flushing was thick with seaweed and the slight odor of rotting eggs.
But when the wind blows from the northeast, Little said, he and his family have been forced to flee their home until the smell subsides.  They have had to keep their windows closed and move to a front bedroom and at times have been unable to use their outdoor deck.  The back of their home overlooks the end of Ash Street.
Little said the problem intensified at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, when borough firefighters using a ladder truck sprayed fresh water on the algae.  ‘We had to run out of the house last night, and so did our neighbors next door,’ he said.  “We had to go down to my office on Cutler Street.”  “Little said the small area of Ash Street has already become a “dead zone” for fish and waterfowl because of the lack of oxygen.”
A toxic, flammable gas that can be a product of decaying organic matter especially in low oxygen conditions.  It can be smelled at one part per million.
Levels up to 10 parts per million can cause eye, throat and nose irritation.  Levels of 10 to 50 million can cause headache, nausea, dizziness and breathing problems.
Levels above 100 parts per million can result in a sudden loss of smell and a host of serious medical problems.
Source:  SafetyDirectory.com 
This (sulfide) is a sign of extreme heat and low oxygen waters.  In the historical fisheries literature, often mentioned as the smell of “rotting eggs.”

Appendix #4

The New York Times - 1899
LOBSTERS ARE SCARCE.; The Natural Supply Dying Out and Artificial Propagation Necessary to Prevent Extermination.
From The Bangor Commercial.      July 24, 1899

Notwithstanding the efforts of the United States Fish Commission to restock the waters along the New England coast with lobsters, the annual supply of 2,500,000 pounds from Maine is nearly exhausted, and the Government, having become alarmed, has sent the Fish Commission steamer Grampus, Capt. Griffin, to this coast to buy female lobsters and transplant them at the hatcheries in Gloucester.
The New York Times - 1999
Scientists Are Mystified by Deaths Of Lobsters in Long Island Sound
By David Barstow            Oct. 18, 1999   

Marine experts suspect that a mysterious pathogen has killed tens of thousands of lobsters in Long Island Sound this fall.
The die-off, described as the worst to hit Long Island Sound in nearly a decade, has alarmed hundreds of lobstermen in New York and Connecticut and has prompted extensive laboratory testing by state and Federal environmental officials.
Marine experts say they are unsure of the full scope of the die-off, which was reported late last week in several Long Island newspapers. Offering what he described as a conservative estimate, Mr. Young said ''tens of thousands'' of lobsters have died already, with roughly 8 of every 100 captured lobsters coming up dead. Blue crabs and rock crabs, too, are dying, officials said.
Lobster boats first began reporting the deaths about six weeks ago, particularly in the western third of Long Island Sound.
''I pulled up 300 pots today and I didn't see anything,'' said Bart Mansi, 43, a lobsterman who has 2,500 traps in Long Island Sound.

Appendix #5
Are We Headed Towards Another Lobster Cycle?
One of the features of the cycle of lobsters is the strength of the megalops set.  Small lobsters after hatching are planktonic – they float on the surface before reaching stage 4 and drop to the bottom.  I had seen stage 3 lobster (megalops) in Rockport Harbor in 2006 amongst floating seaweed rack.  At night, the amount of lobster larvae could easily be seen in a flashlight beam.  We had been fishing for bluefish but a seaweed wrack on the surface ended our line fishing.  It was then that my son Willard noticed thousands of small lobsters mixed with the seaweed.
I had never seen so many stage 3 lobsters and Willard put a few in a five-gallon bucket to show the family – returning them a few minutes later.  That was late summer in 2006 – with Maine’s catch steadily increasing until reaching a huge catch of 132 million pounds in 2016.  But by 2014, the lobster settlement index had already showed declines (The Search for Megalops Report #3, July 20, 2017).  That is the primary reason I attended the 2016 Maine Fishermen’s Forum to learn more about the settlement index as the first sign of a massive habitat/population cycle.  The settlement index is an important measure of the fishery in years to come.  It seems as though we might be heading towards another cycle (See The University of Maine – The Wahle Lab – American Lobster Settlement Index Update 2022).  The Settlement Index has measured post megalops stage for 35 years and is a valuable long-term data service for lobsters.
Recent news accounts mention a 39% decline in the lobster settlement index from 2016 to 2018.  The catch of lobsters hit in a peak in 2016 at 132 million pounds.  In 2022, Maine’s lobster catch was 97 million pounds. 
This reduction could cause another gauge increase, resulting in larger lobsters in the same habitats.

The Day
B4, Thursday, October 19, 2023
Young Lobsters Show Decline Off New England Coasts
Fishermen will see new rules as a result
By Patrick Whittle
Associated Press

Portland, Maine – The population of young lobsters has declined nearly 40% in some of the most critical fishing waters off New England, officials said Wednesday, triggering new restrictions for the fishermen who harvest the valuable crustaceans.
Officials with the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said surveys have detected a 39% decline in young lobsters in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank areas for 2020-22 compared to 2016-18.  The areas are among the most important lobster fishing grounds in the world.
The initial timeline in the new rules would have brought the stricter rules into play on June 1, 2024, but Commissioner Patrick Keliher of the Maine Department of Marine Resources successfully moved to delay implementation to Jan. 1, 2025.  Keliher said the decline must be taken seriously, but the U.S. lobster fishery would have inequities with Canadian fishermen if they switched to new size requirements too quickly.


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