Conservation works: study says smart stewardship is helping Maine lobster fishery withstand rising ocean temperatures

A study published last week shows that climate change is and will continue to have a major impact on lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine. The good news: conservation measures adopted by the state decades ago will ensure that the fishery so important to coastal communities will survive the changes.

The study, authored by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), the University of Maine and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), says the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine could shrink 40 to 62 percent over the next 30 years due to rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change.

The northwest Atlantic ocean, which includes the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy, is warming almost three times faster than the global average rate.

According to the study, the number of lobster eggs predicted to survive will decrease as the water temperature in the Gulf rises, while the number of predators that eat lobster eggs is predicted to increase. That’s a bad combination for both the crustaceans and the coastal communities along the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy who depend upon the catch.

Lobster fisherman in the Bay of Fundy.

But, in a testament to smart stewardship, the study also determined that conservation measures adopted decades ago by the state and lobster fishermen will help keep the fishery productive in a climate-changed ocean.

Andrew Pershing, GMRI’s chief scientific officer and one of the study authors, told the Portland Press Herald that measures such as throwing back large lobsters and egg-bearing females will prevent the population from shrinking by up to 80 per cent.

“That is the difference between holding on to a reasonable fishery and a really challenging situation for the state’s most valuable fishery,” Pershing said. “Even under our warmest temperature model, there will still be a fishery.”

A Marine Protected Area established in the Bay of Fundy’s Musquash Estuary in 2006 helps preserve the critical ecosystem, ensures important local fisheries stay productive, and allows people to canoe and kayak in the beautiful salt marsh, like during our Fundy Baykeeper’s annual Musquash Paddle.

Matt Abbott, our Fundy Baykeeper, says this is just another example of how much it pays off when we manage our fisheries in a smart and sustainable way.

“This reinforces what we’ve seen time and again in our oceans around the world: that conservation works,” Abbott said.

“Just like we saw here in the Bay of Fundy with the Musquash Marine Protected Area, when we work together with fishermen and governments, we can protect the ocean that we love, the marine animals that inspire us, and ensure that the fisheries so important to our coastal communities continue to support families for generations to come.”