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« on: July 14, 2021, 03:04:14 PM »

IMEP #90 Part 2
New England Lobsters Return to Shallow Water after 1920
A Cold NAO Rebuilds Lobster Habitats
Understanding Science Through History
A Review of the Lobster Convention of 1903
View all Habitat History Posts on the Blue Crab Forum™
Viewpoint of Tim Visel no other agency or organization
February 2020 The Sound School
This is a delayed report
Thank you The Blue Crab ForumTM for supporting Sound School Newsletters – over 300,000 views
Readers should review IMEP #90 Part 1 posted on July 7, 2021


Twenty years after the lobsters started to die off in Long Island Sound in the late 1890s, reports were still are circulating as to why and many continue to mention the lack of proper management as overfishing.  Without an inclusive review of lobster fishing and natural climate factors during the 1890’s, these viewpoints need a closer view.   As fishery abundance declines (and these can include a variety of factors), you often see changes in the fishing gear.  The lobster fishery of southern New England is a good example.  Fishing gear types had started to change as early as 1850.  The hoop nets of the Colonial 1770’s were fading to the increased use of wood traps.  By harvesting only the large lobsters (usually for canneries), we had already altered the capacity for nursery habitats to hold more yet smaller lobsters (less competition for food).  The management policies of the next century would reverse that.  To increase egg capacity, legal lobsters were of larger sexually mature sizes, which at first glance, is a correct and often necessary management policy.  However, in the case of the southern New England lobster population, it has proven ineffective and in some cases counterproductive.  This is because to regulate a fishery is in many ways to support efforts to alter a natural balance or carrying capacity connected to a habitat type.  We also have largely failed to consider that we fish for a nocturnal species during the day (bright sun), greatly altering predator/prey relationships.  Larger lobsters also tended to eat smaller ones, leaving huge lobsters in areas or “ground keepers.”

The truth of the matter is the first lobster fishers fished during the night when lobsters were out actively seeking food.  In time, the amount of bait deposited in the lobster fishery would supplement capacity and therefore work to lower competition and fighting loss; lobsters that would eat each other simply had more food – we provided it.  (This is also termed the bird feeder effect).  This allowed greater numbers of smaller lobsters to live in shallow water, which now started to heat up.

No amount of regulation could or did prevent a warm water habitat failure.  That is why reports of overfishing, as a primary cause should be soundly rejected today, lastly failing to consider the impacts of cycles of hot and cold seawater and what conditions made it possible to point to our overfishing as a reason for the lobsters decline.  (To accept overfishing as a condition that would include the concept of underfishing as well).  This is necessary from historical reports as how to explain three such die offs – 1790 to 1810, 1898 to 1905 and then 1998 to 2006 as large climate patterns.
Although some studies today continue to point to a lack of conservation efforts or delays in accepting management change as reasons for the Long Island Sound lobster fishery declines, they also often do not include habitat constraints or conditions in nursery habitats. It was hard to miss the increase of “shorts” in Long Island Sound after 1990, they often filled traps. More traps in the water meant more food and landings soared here in Connecticut.  Fishers (lobster fishers) knew this and created a public policy divide between those attempting to preserve or increase the resource and those who depended on harvesting the resource.  It is a problem that has occurred in the past connected with natural resource use. It is a very old conflict – people who are closer to the resource as those who “made the lobster rules lived in warm houses,” and did not worry about one meal to the next – as George W. Field found out in Pt Judith Pond in the 1890s.  A massive fish kill occurred in Point Judith Pond in the 1896 and then a lobster die-off in Narragansett Bay two years later.  This was devastating to the small boat fishers of PT Judith Pond a century ago.  When Dr. Field planted several bushels of shellfish as spawners there they were quickly harvested and sold to markets.  This event was to impact his future management policies.

The Lobster Ruin of 1898 and the United States Fish Commission

Five years of economic ruin from the lobster collapse put the U.S. Fish Commission in a difficult position.  East Coast newspapers carried dramatic headlines – such as those in The New York Times “Lobsters Are Scarce: The Natural Supply Dying Out and Artificial Propagation Necessary to Prevent Extermination.”  The continued press media coverage cast a shadow on the Commission, the “lead agency” for fisheries.  The invitation for a regional “lobster convention” came from J.W. Collins, then President of the Massachusetts Fish Commission (Maine Sea and Shore Fisheries, 1903-04 Report, pg. 26):

“Dear Sirs:  A convention of Commissioners of the lobster producing states and British Maritime Provinces will be held at room 249, State House Boston, Wednesday September 23rd 1903, for the purpose of considering what can be done to secure a better protection of the lobster, and if possible, to obtain laws which are as nearly uniform as possible in the various states and provinces.  You are cordially invited to attend this convention, which we anticipate will be one of the most interesting and important ever held for the purpose of trying to prevent the ultimate commercial extinction of the lobster.”
Yours respectfully,
J.W. Collins

The formation of the US Fish Commission in 1871 set the ground work for fisheries regulatory policy.  Congress created this agency because of fisheries declines, particularly those of the coast and, therefore, subject to greater temperature variation.  The mission statement reflects both an information process “investigation” and the cure – remediation.

“The decrease of the food fishes of the sea coasts and lakes of the United States and to suggest remedial measures.”
Much of the concern was the decline of shad, the food of the poor.  In the next two decades, we can look at several volumes of Fish Commission reports, which describe the shad fisheries and the equipment used to pursue them.  But the cure of the decline was not entirely possible because the Fish Commission could not control nature.  The two basic directions then were aquaculture (which was already well underway for trout hatcheries) and uniform regulations.  The collapse is something that embarrassed the Commission, the decline of lobsters had occurred after the Commission had been created – the decline had occurred during “their watch” – a concern that put the Commission under public questioning and funding scrutiny.  With its creation by Congress, its reports were written and submitted to them – the agency that provided its funding.  The other embarrassment was the State of Rhode Island had built its own lobster hatchery (and an upwelling system) at Wickford, Rhode Island in 1901.  States were beginning to generate their own fishery reports (data), once only the realm of the US Fish Commission and, at times, questioned management policies.  The heat waves and warmer winters of the 1890’s would then deliver a major inshore fishery collapse – lobsters.  This “red herring” landed directly on the US Fish Commission doorstep in 1902.  The lobster convention occurred the next year in 1903 (readers should review IMEP #62 posted April 6, 2017 on the Blue Crab ForumTM, which covered the 1903 lobster convention in more detail) and the influence of states and Canada greatly upset plans for Commission policy of uniform lobster regulations – the typical management response to the fishery – overfishing.  Rhode Island looked to lobster habitat studies, lobsters were seeking deeper, colder waters.  Maine reported that its lobster catch was increasing and Canada reported that lobsters were climatic, different regions had different sizes or regulations.

These three perspectives can be found in the 1903 report, US Fish Commission strong position of uniform regulations, the shallow waters were filled with shorts, the larger lobsters were gone (industry) and that lobster hatcheries (several states) held the best chance of bringing back the lobster.  The dilemma of course was the expectation that the US Fish Commission was created to avoid (prevent) this type of situation – a fishery collapse and huge economic loss.  An agency could not admit that no matter what it did it could not help.  That might cause the questioning of why such an agency even exists or perhaps reduce its federal funds.

Instead after the 1903 lobster convention, the first “position paper” would come from the former US Fish Commissioner – Joseph Williams Collins himself – the policy clearly illustrated by its title:
   “Report Upon A Convention Held at Boston 1903 to Secure Better Protection of the Lobster” - other reports included:
1.   Maine’s Report From The Sea and Shore Fisheries Twenty-Eighth Report of the Commissioner of Sea and Shore Fisheries of the State of Maine For the Years 1903-1904 Reports on the Lobster Convention on page 26
2.   Science Magazine, pg. 650, Vol.23, pg. 650-655, Effective Protection for the Lobster Fishery by Francis H. Herrick 1906, also employed by the US Fish Commission
3.   George Field would issue a report in 1911 titled “The Lobster Fishery – A Special Report Including Suggestions for Uniform Laws Massachusetts Commissions on Fisheries and Game for the State of Massachusetts.
Did the hatcheries help bring back the lobster?  From what I can see, yes, in the beginning once the habitat became suitable again, the transplanting of stage four eliminated the reproductive delay of the many years a short sub-legal lobster would need to grow before being able to carry eggs before stage four happened.  But as the habitat continued to improve, natural reproductive capacity far outweighed the production from the hatcheries. (The hatcheries were like today’s greenhouses and why people buy bedding tomatoes (plants) rather than growing them from seed to save time).

As the climate cooled, the habitat capacity improved and the hatchery input compared to natural recruitment diminished in significance.  One of the outcomes of the 1903 convention was it did bring some uniform measures – egg carrying lobsters were returned, egg carrying lobsters were purchased by the state to be hatched or released, the tail being punched (later the V notch) so that state officials would not purchase the same lobsters, and licenses were required.

In 1903, the US Fish Commission was reorganized as the United States Bureau of Fisheries and made part of the US Department of Commerce.

The Lobster Convention of 1903

The extent of the lobster collapse of 1898 caught southern New England fishery managers by surprise.  As landings increased, management efforts up until this point were to allow lobsters to become larger (a legal lobster length), capable of carrying eggs and to get public policy support to end the practice of lobster egg stuffing, especially in Massachusetts.  Over time, lengths were established and the practice of egg stuffing ended.  However, by 1902, with the lobster 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 in 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 on September 23, 1903 and harbor tours provided on September 24, 1903. 

It was to be a unifying convention with Joseph W. Collins, Chairman, Massachusetts Fish Commission and Dr. George W. Field, also of Massachusetts, its Secretary.  These two individuals would have pivotal roles.  Joseph Collins 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. Fields support for lobster hatcheries added to a climate perspective – warming.  The climate change perspective was made by the strong statements of fishery managers of Rhode Island led by Rhode Island Fisheries Commissioner Southwick of Newport, Rhode Island, noting an increase in lobster disease (the 1890’s brought extreme heat to New England) and others concerns as predation to the convention not just overfishing and three people had critical views: Southwick for climate, Collins for more regulation, and Dr. Field for aquaculture. 
Rhode Island Commissioner Southwick reading a position paper:

“Yet there is another peril, which we have not mentioned – the diseases to which they are 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 blue fish and black sea bass, even mentioning eels feeding off female eggers.  Black sea bass had surged during this warm to “hot term” and the increased predation greatly alarmed Rhode Island fishery managers.
“After arrival at the bottom the lobster’s existence is continually imperiled although he has passed the period of greatest mortality.  He is beset by the blackfish, codfish and sea bass, who are particularly fond of these young fellows (lobsters – T. Visel) and continue to like them after they develop to adult age and size (Southwick also mentioned the impact of eels consuming eggs) and by further challenge the concept of uniform regulations (promoted by Joseph Collins) as having the desired impact.”

Speaking on behalf of all Rhode Island commissioners, Southwick 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 catch is increasing.  Here Joseph Collins mentions an increasing element in the Maine lobster fishery, an expanding winter fishery mentioned by Maine’s Sea and Shore Fisheries Commissioner Nickerson as evidenced by increased catches.  Joseph Collins mentions this increase in fishing days (longer growing  season) and that vessels now seek lobsters offshore in deeper (cooler waters) – catching more lobsters.

“Now the boats sometimes go out ten or fifteen miles from land to fish (In the 1870’s, lobsters were dense in 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 young boy, recounts how in the 1870’s the shallows held many lobsters – the 1870’s had bitter cold winters – T. Visel)
And then counters Rhode Island’s claim of predators and climate and Maine’s increasing catch by pointing out the shallows (those areas likely to show the impacts of high heat) now contains less lobsters (Ice free winters were not mentioned although ice famines were frequent newspaper headlines in 1900 to 1902 T. Visel).
Collins on the Winter Fishery in Maine:

“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; for, as already stated, 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; for those walking, they could be easily seen.  Although once Fish Commission 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 to one size “lobsters are climatic – the difference in the legal lengths permitted by our regulations is explained in this way.”

On the day of the conference at the end, selected members of the lobster industry came in to comment at 2:15 p.m. (lobster dealers and Robert Conwell of Provincetown) with the formal meeting ending at 5:30 p.m.  Mr. Conwell’s suggestion of escape vents, a practice already in place on Cape Cod, which let smaller lobsters escape – “so they are not even caught.”  Other industry speakers supported the length law and protection of eggers and licensing.  All these suggestions were included as policy recommendations.  Only 5 industry speakers presented, and at 3:22 p.m., a little over an hour, at the convention end, Mr. Geer of Connecticut moved the meeting, going into executing session and wrote the recommendations.  The next day several attendees had a tour of the Boston Harbor although no formal business was reported to have been conducted.  Many members of the lobster convention were on the harbor tour, led by J.W. Collins.

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 length was not. 
But the division between Joseph Collins and Dr. Field, who strongly supported Rhode Island’s position and openly praised its lobster hatchery efforts (which he had helped develop), drew a caution.  Here on pages 49 and 50 Collins writes:

“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 far enough to take the matter beyond the plane 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 discussion) while Rhode Island wanted broader discussions, predators and disease as “foes” as well.  Canadian officials did use the term climate, and they had different rules based upon water temperature and mentioned the climate factors for different rules. 
Rhode Island officials did not accept the strict regulatory approach and, for nearly a century, held to a smaller lobster “legal size” and for their habitats they were absolutely correct.  When you have habitat limitations and, in this case, fewer rocks or reefs, larger lobsters just mean fewer lobsters = as in shallow water, habitat space and forage was limiting and they would just consume each other. 

“The Great destruction of lobsters, as I saw from the little experiments I had myself, was when they are in a confined space.  They eat one another, and fight like tigers” – Commissioner Southwick commented.
And regarding natural losses, and lobster culture efforts at Wickford, pg. 12 – Southwick comments:
“The comparative few who survive the perils of the upper waters and develop to a stage (Stage 4 – T. Visel) when they think they should go to housekeeping on the bottom have to take many chances of being gobbled up on the way there.  After arrival at the bottom, the lobster’s existence is continually imperiled although he has passed the period of greatest mortality.  Here he is beset by the blackfish, codfish and sea bass, who are particularly fond of these young fellows, and continue to like them after they develop to adult age and size.”  (The increase of black sea bass is noted in Rhode Island at this time T. Visel).

Larger lobsters would need larger habitats and could impact carrying capacity, a natural mortality that Rhode Island officials mentioned.
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 so customary, then a knee jerk reaction for more lobster rules.  Rhode Island protested and “called out” this intention for everyone to see, reading from a report mentioning “Quack Practice” carried to meeting.

The mention of Quack Science and the fact that the Rhode Island Fish Commissioners came to the meeting with a typed report titled “Our Ocean Fisheries and The Effect of Legislation Upon The Fisheries” led me to believe that they were considering other natural forces other than uniform regulations.  Consider the following statement:
“If we can determine the cause we can better arrive at a conclusion as to what will be a remedy, as a doctor first diagnosis his case before attempting to apply remedies.  Therefore, remedies have been tried with no better result than generally follow quack practice.”

(Note: At this time, Quack practice was associated with fraudulent medical skills and the selling of fake cures we call snake oil science today – T. Visel).

And Commissioner Southwick read from the report perhaps to ensure it did make it into the records (which it did).  It is important to note that states were setting up research programs outside of the U.S. 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 previous U.S. Fish Commission regulatory response.  A century after the meeting allows a review of the climate factors occurring in southern New England during this period, halfway into the 40-year period of the 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 not in the minutes) was climate impacts was not included.  Some important terms include (we call these “proxies” today, indicators of massive climate shifts) the following had happened in Rhode Island and most likely influenced Rhode Island’s position: 
1896 – A massive dieoff of fish in Point Judith Pond (others follow)

1897 – Failure of bay scallops in deep water beds; lobsters noted leaving the shallows.
1898 – “A Plague Descends Among Upper Narragansett Bay”, red tide and a huge fish kill; Rhode Island begins Narragansett Bay Survey.
1899 – George W. Field notes that the stench of sulfide from Point Judith band threatens to turn it into a “bog hold.” Block Island fishers report seeing strange schools of fish.
1900 – First lobster experiments at Wickford Harbor.  Tagged lobsters leave Narragansett Bay to deep water.
1901 – Fish trappers complain about Black Sea Bass.  Sharp gill plate rips linen and cotton twine of pocket traps.
1902 – Tarpon caught in Dutch Harbor.
1903 – Rhode Island includes report about a growing blue crab soft shell trade.  Blue crab populations increase in Narragansett Bay.
But a review of the climate record, other population trends (Connecticut Fish and Game commissioners believed Brook Trout now functionally extinct in 1901).  However, duck hunters enjoyed “open winters,” no ice with huge Brant populations feeding upon lush eelgrass growths.  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 heats, which produced massive “killer heat waves.” (See Appendix #1: The Lobster Dieoffs of 1899 and 1999)
And while eelgrass benefitted from this heat, farmers complained that valuable kelp fertilizer (which prefers cool waters) 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 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 coastal salt marshes).
Noank, CT, once the commercial center of the Southern CT Lobster Trade, saw them vanish to be replaced with the blue crab.
During this Great Heat, 1880-1920, Noank would support tourists and city dwellers anxious to escape the heat and disease outbreaks to summer in eastern Connecticut near “cool waters and shore breezes.”  Hotels advertised rooms with small row boats that came with blue crab nets.
(Noank, because of its history, would in time become the site of Connecticut’s lobster hatchery – it is now shellfish cooperative.)
As bay scallop populations collapsed, so did the habitat that eelgrass desired (although much has been written about the habitat association between bay scallops and eelgrass 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 clam set heavily along the upper Narragansett Bay shores.
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 heat and increase of kelp after a period of cold.  These habitat areas 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 dieoff with the dieoff of 1998, a century apart and compare them for climate impacts – my view, T. Visel.

The Lobster Dieoffs of 1899 and 1999

The New York Times
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

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.

State of Connecticut --Report of Fish and Game Commissioners 1911-1912
Frank W. Hewes, M.D., President, E. Hart Geer, Secretary, Frank O. Davis

Lobsters. Through enactment of the Legislature of 1905, the propagation of the lobster was placed in control of this Commission. Previous to this little or no attention was given to lobster protection and none to artificial propagation.

   The statistics collected by the United States Bureau of Fisheries in 1908 shows there were TEN persons pursuing the occupation of lobster fishing at Noank. In 1902, your Commission issued thirty-two permits for persons to engage in the lobster fishing. This number does not include quite a number of persons who confine their fishing operations in New York waters, but who live in and bring their product to Noank, and who take out no permit from this Commission.

   The Acts of 1907 require lobster fishermen to furnish statistics of the fishery, and we find, at that time, 247 people engaged in lobster fishing, with a product of 391,203 pounds of lobsters, valued at $56,475.00. The statistics for 1912 show 498 permits issued by the Commission. The produce amounting to 514,579 pounds of lobsters at a value of $76,986.00. This increase, perhaps, serves as an index to the extension of the fishery.

- Connecticut Lobster Fishery Observations 1911-1912 -

NEW HAVEN.—“ Not many lobsters this year. There is quite a few small lobster. No egg lobsters have been caught in three years.”

NIANTIC.—“Lobsters scarce; more small ones than last year.”

MADISON.—“ I have noticed a large number of very small lobsters the whole season for taking in deep water. Egg lobsters are quite plentiful now, and these I find in shoal water close to the shore.”

MYSTIC.—“ Large lobsters have been very scarce. Small lobsters from four to seven inches long have been plentiful.”

GUILFORD.—“The marked increase of small lobsters is very gratifying and is sufficient proof that the hatchery is one of the greatest institutions in the State, and I shall do all I can to help the Commissioners of Fisheries and Game in the protection and propagation.”

EAST RIVER.—“A large number of very small lobsters.”

BRANFORD.—“Early in the season lobsters seemed to be plentiful enough, but towards the end they became scarce. there are a lot of undersize lobsters in this vicinity which I think will be of size next season. Most of these seem to be perfect and not injured in any way. These undersize lobsters seem to stay in one place.”

CLINTON.— “Small lobsters have seemed more plentiful for the last two seasons, but it may be because there are fewer big ones. Little ones are not apt to get into pots when there are large ones around.”

COS COB.—“Large quantities of small lobsters this year. More than usual.”

ROWAYTON.—“I found plenty of small lobsters, but the large ones were scarce.”

NOANK.—“The Sound off Noank was full of small lobsters all summer, from two to four inches long.”

STONY CREEK. —“I find a large number of very small lobsters the past two years of a size that I have not caught at any time previous to last year. Have fished lobsters about 18 years. My report includes last fall after the report was sent in, as I lobstered to December 1st.”

WESTBROOK.—“There were lots of small lobsters. Should be better next season.”

WATERFORD.—“The lobsters were more than last year. There have been more small lobsters this year than I have seen before in eight years, so it looks more encouraging than it was for four years. Lots of small ones.”

STONINGTON.—“Lobsters were few, that is large ones, but there were a large number of short ones and a large number of them from five to seven inches long.”

STAMFORD.—“I have found lobsters very scarce. Plenty of small ones not fit to sell.”

Report of the NOANK Lobster Hatchery 1911-1912

Noank Station. In procuring the eggs for the operation of this Station the same general policy has been pursued as heretofore, by purchasing the adult lobster with the egg attached. These were collected from the fishermen the entire length of the coast, who are paid the full market price. After the eggs have been removed and placed in the hatching jars, the parent lobsters are returned to the waters of Long Island Sound, as near the same locality as possible from which they were taken.

During the biennial period, 1,474 ripe egg lobsters have been collected, from which 25,585,990 eggs were obtained, resulting in the hatching of 22, 750,000 fry which was planted in the coast waters.

During this same period, there were also collected 1,586 green egg lobsters, making a total of 3,060 egg-bearing lobsters collected, of which number 1,586 were held in cars during the winters, and the balance, 536, were returned to the water.

 In the seven years of the operation of this hatchery, 208,761,870 fry have been hatched and liberated.

The lobster fishery in the State of Maine is the largest in the United States, and nearly 14,000 egg lobsters were collected the past season for the Federal hatchery at Boothbay Harbor. This is the largest collection ever made in one season. Conditions in the other New England States indicate a material decrease in the egg lobster collections with a corresponding reduction in hatcheries output.

The Noank Station* was visited by a representative of a foreign country who showed much interest in the hatching operations at this station. Your Commission supplied several adult lobsters to the Wickford Experiment Station* in order that this representative could observe the practical methods as conducted by the Rhode Island Commission.

[Note - *
These were often referred to as Marine Experiment Stations modeled after land prototypes, The Agriculture Experimentation Concept. The Noank and Wickford stations operated the lobster hatcheries   - Tim Visel]

Twenty-eighth Report of the
Commissioner of Sea and Shore Fisheries
of the State of Maine: 1903 – 1904

The U. S. Fish Commission has assisted this department by making collections for a part of the season in the western section of the State waters. It has also secured an artificial saltwater reserve in Lincoln county and is experimenting in the keeping of lobsters therein, awaiting transportation to the hatchery, and for other purposes of observation and investigation under natural conditions.

The following report for the two years 1903 and 1904 shows the magnitude and importance of this duty performed by the "Sea Gull," and it will be interesting to learn as to the collection and dispersing of the lobsters, and millions of fry hatched from them and returned to our waters.  Account of purchase from fishermen of egg-bearing lobsters, and disposition for the year 1903.

Number purchased from March to November 30 14,173

Transported to U. S. Hatchery at Gloucester, Mass., for scientific investigation and propagation of eggs: 1,925.   The lobsters were later returned and liberated in Maine waters.  Impounded at the U. S. Reserve in Bristol, Lincoln County to be cared for by U. S. officials: 6,801.  These were in the following spring taken to the Gloucester, Mass., hatchery, the eggs hatched, and the mother lobsters all returned and liberated near the place of purchase.  Number liberated at time and place of purchase 5,447

The young hatched from the above eggs were cared for at the Gloucester hatchery and were subsequently brought here and deposited to the number of 32,700,000 eggs, as will appear by reference to the following table for 1903.

Date of Plant Number fry planted Point of Deposit 1903.
June 5 1,200,000 Casco Bay, near north shore, Great Diamond Island.
June 10 1,500,000 Portland Harbor, In cove northwest of Portland Head Lt. Casco
June 11 1,500,000 Casco Bay, in a cove near the south shore of Mackey's Island.
June 12 1,500,000 Casco Bay, in a cove near the north shore of Cushings Island.
June 13 1,500,000 Casco Bay, east side entrance to Fore River.
June 15 1,500,000 Casco Bay, south shore Clapboard Island.
June 16 1,500,000 Casco Bay, Diamond Island Cove.
June 17 1,500,000 Casco Bay, near north shore Half Way Rock.
June 19 1,000,000 Maine Coast, off Cape Porpoise.
June 19 1,000,000 Maine Coast, north shore, Wood Island.
June 19 500,000 Maine Coast, south shore, Small Point.
June 19 1,000,000 Maine Coast, east shore, Pemaquid Point.
June 19 1,000,000 Maine Coast, Port Clyde, near shore.
June 19 1,500,000 Casco Bay, nearshore, Back Bay.
June 21 1,500,000 Maine Coast, Rockland Harbor.
June 20 1,500,000 Casco Bay, southeast shore, Peaks Island.
June 22

The Cycle of Lobsters

Stage 3 to 4 Lobsters – Summer Rockport, Maine 2006 examined by
Willard Visel, Rockport Town Dock

In 2006, bluefish and striped bass had made it into Rockport Harbor, Maine.  Although the mackerel fishing was excellent, an occasional cut in half mackerel was a clue that something was happening.  At first we suspected a seal as their presence meant mackerel would be more interested in seeking cover than food.  Then my son Willard caught a bluefish, about 8 pounds.  I can recall Willard as saying this is more like home than Maine.  We started fishing for them, but it was Abigail who found “the fish.”  Earlier in the day, we had gone to a restaurant and she ordered a large bowl of fried shrimp.  She stood on the long metal stairway of the dock (the commercial lobster boat side) and was dropping bits of shrimp into the water and in record time, she was saying “Look at the big fish” and was telling us about them.  We had casted into deep water, 18 feet, with chunks of mackerel on the dock but doubted any fish would be on the shallow side; in three feet of water, we were wrong.  At one point, we heard a splash.  Turning quickly, I saw a familiar tail, the tail of a very large striped bass.  Will turned back to see a 20-pound bass consume another chunk of shrimp.  About six large bass were enjoying shrimp and some urgent negotiations over some shrimp from Abby’s basket, and soon our mackerel bait was switched, and caught some nice sized stripers (as other dock fishers as well).  We returned the next night with whole shrimp, yet did not catch stripers but bluefish.  That’s when, in the flashlight beam, Will caught sight of thousands of small stage 3 + 4 lobsters still swimming against this rock pier (Opposite the dock is the Rockport Harbor Master Office and the memorial to Andre the Seal, and a great exhibit on the “Rockport” kilns that burned limestone into a mixture for mortar.  It is well worth the time to read about how Rockport acquired its name).  This was stage 3 to 4 little lobsters with clearly identified claws swimming around the light.  On the bottom, larger lobsters roamed amongst cobble and rock rubble.  The evening dock area was a very busy place.  The amount of lobsters in the water was incredible to see.  Willard netted a few and brought them back for everyone to see in a 5-gallon pail.  We saw thousands in the water column in just a small section between the float and pier in the harbor that night; I estimate millions.  Although we didn’t catch any fish, a strong southerly wind had pushed floating wracks of rock weed against the dock.  When it came closer, the number of stage 4 swimming lobster fry soon increased.  It almost seemed to me they were using the seaweed as cover but soon found areas in which to hide along the pier (stone) face.  A southerly wind was blowing this seaweed to shore and with it lobsters.  When I returned to Connecticut some local newspapers had carried some stories about searching for the lobster post megalops stage in Rhode Island and Connecticut.  I contacted people I knew and gave them information that stage 3 and 4 was close to the shore in Maine being driven to it by an almost content southerly breeze.  In just 10 years the Maine lobster catch would reach 130 million pounds.  This was the megalops set for Maine - a south westerly breeze would tend to move them to the shore that, in time, became part of that huge catch.   
The small lobsters in the cobblestones would not survive for long only those that moved off the beach to offshore ledges and rocks with larger voids could find habitat to accommodate growth.  Here the kelp-cobble stone beds provided a source of a lobster nursery before moving to deeper water.  They could not live forever hiding in the kelp, they would just get to large and if not hidden easy prey to fish in daylight.  We had that happen here with blue crab sets – a change in wind – to northerly – meant that blue crabs were blown offshore into deeper water and became the forage for a huge black sea bass population.  Alison Varian (unfortunately late of Guilford, CT) a frequent megalops newsletter reporter – contacted me with reports of her black sea bass trips – with late fall catches coughing up small blue crabs in 90 feet of water.  The Black Sea bass were stuffed with them confirmed in later reports (See Megalops Report #1, December 30, 2017).  A late fall set would be subject to north western winds moving any blue crab megalops to deep water and that is apparently what happens.  Could this be the fate of Maine’s  lobster megalops set (fish forage) if wind direction change?  Maine is tracking this important feature, see America Lobster Settlement Index – and the research field of Dr. Richard Wahle of the University of Maine.

Bulletin of the United States Fish Commission 1893
Page 39
Remarks of J.M.K. Southwick, Fish Commissioner
Newport, Rhode Island
“Our Ocean Fisheries and the Effect of Legislation Upon the Fisheries”

Page 39.
6. Our Ocean Fisheries and the Effect of Legislation upon the Fisheries.
By J. M. K. Southwick, Fish Commissioner, Newport, Rhode Island. 1893
“No question can arise concerning our fisheries of more importance than that relating to our ocean fisheries. Of ocean fishes that particularly interest us at this time are those that periodically visit our coast and remain in our waters during the warm weather. The taking of these fish has become an important industry, its value is far-reaching; besides those directly employed, it ramifies into almost all departments of industry and trade. It stimulates the business of the mechanic, the manufacturer, the merchant, and has become an important factor to the farmer, furnishing an essential and valuable fertilizer.

The habits of the different species, their varying numbers, their absence for long periods, their sudden reappearance, their appearance in waters where never before seen, are interesting phenomena, the effects of natural laws but little understood and which baffle the most astute student. But of one thing we can be sure, that the fluctuations in numbers have ever been and ever will be a law of their existence. Nor is this strange. It would indeed be strange were it not so. Their fluctuations have been noticed all along through their history and were as marked in the past as in the present; probably more so.

The question whether sea fishes may or may not be affected in numbers by overfishing has been as definitely settled as it can be, by the most thorough investigations of the past, in this and foreign countries, but the conclusions arrived at fail to be recognized by the local authorities, and many of the States have enacted laws at variance with them. To justify such repressive laws, it should be made to appear that continued free fishing was working an injury to somebody or something, or destructive to the fish, and that the injury affected interests greater than itself. As it is presumed that no injury will be suggested other than the alleged reduction of the fish, we will consider that only.
That the fish are being reduced in numbers and that the reduction is caused by overfishing are the charges made against net fishing. The reply is, that fish are not being reduced; that if they were, it must be from natural causes. Statistics show that after fifty-seven years continual use of the purse net in fishing for menhaden the largest catch was made in 1884; and after fifty years continual fishing for scup the Rhode Island shipments of this fish were swelled from 12,514 barrels in 1882 to 28,955 barrels in 1892. The statistics of catches in European waters go to confirm our own, and show rather an increase than diminution. To this we have the added declaration of the most able investigators, both there and here.

The late Prof. Baird thought in 1871 that it was necessary, in order to preserve the scup, to restrict in some degree the catches of that fish by traps, but in 1877 he stated before the Halifax Commission:
"Very much to my disgust, I must admit that the next year, even with all the abundance of these engines, the young scup came in quantities so great as to exceed anything the oldest fisherman remembered. Since then scup have been very much more abundant than when I wrote my book and report."

To this the reply comes that statistics are not a true indication of the fisheries; that increased facilities have made it possible to catch even in increased numbers. "Most of these fish were scup, and the increase probably wholly scup.  We reply that if this is good logic for a year or two, how is it when applied to the business continued for a long series of years, as with the herring fishery of the North Sea, the scup fishery of Rhode Island, and the menhaden fishery of our Atlantic coast? How long can this increase of fish manifest itself before the arrival of the time predicted when they will be totally exterminated?

The number of fish in the sea is as far beyond our estimation as the insects and can be no more influenced by legislative acts. Most, if not all of them, have at times been absent within the last or present century before the use of new appliances that are considered destructive; hence the changes were from causes independent of the acts of man, and natural causes; besides we have the best of authority for saying that the powers of man are inadequate.
In the consideration of a subject it becomes essential to know the experience of the past, what has already been learned concerning it. It would be the extreme of conceited egotism to ignore the past and attempt to evolve from our own narrow experience alone conclusions upon a subject like that of our fisheries. We therefore look to the record of past investigations; we find there has been much patient labor and careful thought bestowed upon this subject. We should pause long and look carefully before accepting conclusions adverse to those arrived at after such thorough research and investigation.

We cannot, therefore, treat this subject fairly without quoting freely from the reports of the past, even though they are familiar to all.

Is It Aquaculture – The Impact of Lobster Bait
Tim Visel, Sound School Coordinator
In the middle of the 1980’s, I used to joke with my Sea Grant colleagues, posing the question “What would happen if the southern New England lobster fishers decided to haul all their lobster traps out on the same day?”  We had come to realize the significance of the “bird feeder effect” that providing tons of bait in traps everyday made lobstering more of an extensive aquaculture effort than a “wild fishery.”  We protected (by regulation) shorts and fed them everyday.  Everyone concluded jokingly that this would be a disaster.  Lobster populations now needed the feeders (pots) and the concept that all the pots coming out at once would shift the population back to lobsters eating other lobsters, which still happened of course.  However, to pull out all the gear would create a lot less food and habitat as well.  This concept was dismissed, it will never happen, etc.  Yet it did, a closed season!  To someone who is not familiar with the concept of bird feeders helping habitat capacity for birds (I once calculated that tons of bird seed were stocked in CT bird feeders everyday), the same was true for lobsters.  They had become dependent upon this non-natural extra food.  Pulling it would mean starvation for some and drive the habitat capacity back to that provided by nature – and this counters what occurs in habitat enhancement, such as bird houses or bird feeders mentioned above.  Imagine what would happen if the bird houses were shuttered all at once – now think of organisms that have claws - T. Visel. 
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« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2021, 02:34:21 PM »

good read


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