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Lobster Institute an International Bridge between Science, Lobster Fishery

For over three decades the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute has pursued its mission to foster communication and research in support of a sustainable and profitable lobster fishery in the US and Canada. The Institute was founded in 1987 in partnership with forward-looking scientists and lobster industry members – including the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA) – who recognized the benefits of greater collaboration. An outgrowth of Maine Sea Grant, it is a unit within the University’s College of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture (NSFA).

I came on board as director in the fall of 2018. In 2021, we moved our office from the Orono campus to the Darling Marine Center, UMaine’s marine science lab on the mid-coast. The Institute’s new assistant director, Chris Cash, started that spring. The two of us represent the core staff. Chris brings a deep well of enthusiasm and a unique perspective as a former Monhegan fisherman in her own right and over 20 years working in the science non-profit world. Our Advisory Board, which guides our programs, is a cross section of leaders in the fishing industry, government, and academia in the U.S. and Canada.

Rick Wahle is the executive director of The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine. UMaine photo.

How do we fulfill our mission? UMaine’s infrastructure gives the Institute the platform from which to launch our diverse initiatives. We strive to maximize the engagement of UMaine faculty, students and facilities with stakeholders in this iconic fishery. We’re energized by some 20 world-class, affiliated faculty and a constant stream of talented students engaged in lobster research from all angles - food science to fisheries, oceanography to agriculture. We do that by collaborating with the fishing industry, policy makers and academics on both sides of the border. We assist or lead proposal writing for industry-relevant grants. These partnerships have generated a large portfolio of lobster-related research supported by state, federal, and private sources. Most include support for graduate student training through research assistantships and fellowships. UMaine’s College of NSFA also generously provides an annual Lobster Institute graduate fellowship on a competitive basis. Here are some examples of projects the Institute has led or helped launch since 2018:

Can Fishermen’s Chart-plotter Data Inform Offshore Wind Development? This NOAA/DOE-supported project arms fishermen with protocols to acquire and aggregate data from chart plotters of different makes and models to inform fishery management and offshore energy development while maintaining confidentiality through the Fisheries Knowledge Trust, part of the Responsible Offshore Development Association.

Fixing Stress Points in the Lobster Supply Chain. Improving “shrink” in the supply chain was one of the top research priorities identified by the MLA and the Maine Lobster Dealers Association in 2018. The Lobster Institute led this partnership seafood companies with scientists and students from UMaine, St. Joseph’s College, and Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. Based on careful monitoring of lobster survival and performance from trap to dealer, the project has produced recommendations for future handling and a model that predicts survival five days out, based on a simple health assessment that takes seconds to do.

The Lobster Institute, now based at the Darling Center in Walpole, fosters lobster research and collaboration on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. Lobster Institute photo.

Farmer meets Fisherman: Can Lobster Waste grow Potatoes? UMaine plant scientists approached the Lobster Institute for a lobster industry partner to see if a shell meal soil amendment can enhance the fertility of potato fields. Ready Seafood Co. stepped up to the plate. Encouraged by greenhouse trials, the team has just been awarded a USDA grant for farm-scale studies.

How does rapid Arctic melting affect fishing in the Gulf of Maine? This latest project is an analysis of how the melting Arctic influences the changing oceanography of the North Atlantic, and in turn, alters the Gulf of Maine ecosystem, its fisheries, and communities that depend on it. The UMaine-led collaboration begins in 2023. It includes scientists from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Columbia University, Florida State University, and Memorial University of Newfoundland, and engages the fishing industry and fishery managers from Rhode Island to Newfoundland.

One of the Lobster Institute’s long-standing events is the Canada-U.S. Lobster Town Meeting, a two day in-person gathering hosted alternately on one or the other side of the border. Forced to take a two-year hiatus because of COVID, we’re eager to host our 18th Town Meeting in Portland, January 20-21, 2023. Town Meeting is a rare opportunity for cross-border dialog among fishermen, managers and academics. The program promises to hit hot topics for the fishing industry. In addition, we also typically have a booth and host sessions on our current projects at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum.

Finally, we aim to keep you up to date with our Lobsters in the News – a twice-a-month round-up of lobster-related headlines in the US Northeast and Atlantic Canada. For a more global view, check out The Lobster Newsletter, co-edited with Western Australia Fisheries, and compiled twice a year with in-depth stories of new research and perspectives on lobsters of all stripes around the world. To subscribe to these periodicals, go to the Newsletter signup form at https://umaine.edu/lobsterinstitute.

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