Image: NOAA, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Woods Hole, MA
January 23, 2001: Juvenile lobsters are disappearing from the waters fished by Maine lobstermen and nobody knows what is happening to them.
That is the observation of Robert Steneck of the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine and Lewis S. Incze and Richard A. Wahle of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. For more than ten years Steneck, Incze and Wahle have been monitoring stock of American lobster (Homarus americanus) in an attempt to identify trends in Maine's most valuable fishery. Now they have made their first prediction.
"The abundance of juvenile lobsters in key lobster producing regions of mid-coast Maine appears to be declining," said Steneck. "We expect landings in those regions and possibly elsewhere to decline sometime during the next two to four years."
Steneck, Incze and Wahle estimated that in Penobscot Bay, one of Maine's most productive lobster producing regions, the decline in landings could be about 40 percent.
But these scientists are unable to account for the disappearing juvenile lobsters. "Just as we cannot explain the dramatic increase in lobster abundances and landings over the past two decades throughout the Northeast, from Delaware to Newfoundland, Canada, we cannot explain the current decline," said Steneck.
So far the only clue to the mystery is the report from lobstermen that they have seen more egg-bearing lobsters in the last ten years than ever before. Evidence from the most recent assessment confirmed that the reproductive potential of the adult lobster stock was high. According to Steneck, Incze and Wahle this fact suggests that environmental conditions that adversely
affect the survival of juveniles, rather than, say, overfishing of breeding adults, are responsible for the decline.