The Darling’s Marine Center received funding to research the lobster and fishing industry in Maine. Photo by Antyna Gould

On Sept. 8 the Maine Sea Grant Program in conjunction with University of Maine scientists announced that more funding was granted for the Sea Grant American Lobster Initiative (ALI). This is the second year in a row that $2 million was awarded to the ALI and this funding will be split up between smaller projects. All the research will be focus on how the American lobster will adapt to a changing climate in the Gulf of Maine and other bodies of water around New England. 

According to UMaine News the habitat of the American lobster is changing rapidly. Climate change is responsible for rising sea levels, temperature increase in the Atlantic and ocean acidification. Scientists are documenting how these physical and chemical changes are impacting the American lobster and other marine life. If people working in lobster fisheries can understand how these changes are affecting the lobsters they can respond in a way that will create a more resilient lobster fishery. These vital research projects could save the American lobster from the adverse effects of climate change, such as habitat loss or population decline. 

UMaine is not the only institution that is participating in lobster research and receiving this funding. NewsCenterMaine shares that “in addition to the four Maine organizations receiving federal funding, the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, which has roots in Dover, New Hampshire as well as Newport, Rhode Island, will receive $326,556. The project will invest in lobster monitoring efforts to better understand their early lifecycle to improve management strategies for the lobster population.” 

The American lobster thrives in the cold Atlantic Ocean, so it makes sense why a good percentage of the population lives in waters off the coast of Maine; however, the American lobster can be found anywhere in coastal New England and sometimes even farther south. The American lobster, taxonomically known as Homarus americanus, typically lives up to 50 years in the wild. 

Two of the nine projects which have received funding are taking place right in Orono, the first of which is titled Incorporating changes in thermal habitat and growth to improve the assessment of American lobster stocks and spatial distribution in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and Southern New England.” This project was awarded $100,776 and NewsCenterMaine says the goal of this project is to “develop a modeling framework to assess and forecast spatio-temporal dynamics of American lobster in a changing ecosystem..  NewsCenterMaine continues to write that this model will be a part of “the American lobster stock assessment framework” which will utilize predicted population data along with projected temperature increase in the habitat. This will allow scientists to prepare for different scenarios climate change could bring about in the New England area and prepare fisheries for what is to come. This information will help fisheries catch lobsters seasonally and more sustainably. 

Creating  varying climates artificially will better prepare scientists for understanding the uncertain future of lobster habitats and help create guidelines for fishermen and women to fish American lobster sustainably. 

Another research inquiry underway in Orono is focused on identifying and defining sentinel indicators of resilience in American lobster fisheries. This project is led by Professor of Marine Policy Joshua Stoll. Stoll recognizes that lobster fisheries are very valuable to Maine’s economy. 

“This project aims to support state- and community-level management and planning. It also responds directly to the call for the creation of social metrics for the lobster fishery that is highlighted in the 2019 Review of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Fishery Management Plan for American Lobster. The need for sentinel indicators of resilience in fisheries is not unique to the lobster fishery and could be employed in other fisheries in New England and beyond,” the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions website states.

This research will help future management in the lobster industry ensure their team is harvesting lobsters safely and sustainably. 

“[We]are thrilled to be part of the American Lobster Initiative… these indicators will complement ongoing efforts that monitor the health of the resource itself by bringing attention to the people who earn a living from the fishery,” Stoll stated in an interview with UMaine News. Stoll is working with Kathleen Reardon from the Maine Department of Marine Resources on this project, as well as Carla Guenther who works for the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.