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Lobster season defies Lobster forecast

The forecast had an immediate effect on the lobster market and on businesses in the lobster supply chain. “The news reporting on a predictive statement regarding early molts or high supply has actually been counter-productive for the industry,” explained Annie Tselikis, executive director of the Maine Lobster Dealers Association. “When some customers see such claims they occasionally interpret the media stories about an early season as meaning ‘cheap lobsters’. This year was a perfect example of that. The lobster supply never came on gangbusters as predicted. And as many people in the lobster business had cautioned in advance of the season, this certainly was not another 2012. Every year is different.” This year certainly has been a different sort of year in terms of Gulf of Maine temperatures. “We started in January and February with very warm, near record, temperatures at almost all of the NERACOOS buoys and over the surface of the entire Gulf of Maine. This led to our initial forecast of a potentially very early year,” Pershing explained in an email message. “However, March and April were relatively cool. This meant that the coastal waters did not warm up as they usually do. The moderation in the ocean temperatures caused our forecast date to shift later in the year.” Throughout the summer months, Buoy I in eastern Maine has steadily recorded above-normal temperatures (higher than the 2001-2015 average), especially at depth. Buoys to the west have recorded much more variable temperatures, swinging from above-average to average during the summer. One possible reason for this variability is the effect of strong southerly winds, which push surface water offshore, allowing cold, deep water to rise in its place. By late August, however, all the Gulf of Maine buoys were showing above-normal temperatures at the surface and at 50-meter depth as well, Pershing said. According to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association (MLA), every year is unique. “Maine lobstermen rely on Mother Nature and she is unpredictable. Every lobsterman knows that once you think you understand this fishery, it changes. There is no normal — that is the nature of working in commercial fisheries,” stated Patrice McCarron, Executive Director of the MLA. From the lobster dealers’ perspective, the unusual is usual. “Maine lobster dealers are very good at managing for the unknown. They all have adapted their businesses in such a way to be nimble to deal with changes in supply, market demand and other pressures, whether year-over-year or month-to-month,” Tselikis said. The problem comes when the meaning of the forecast, which is a computer model based on data generated by the Gulf of Maine buoys, is miscommunicated to the public and other businesses. “The confusion in the market is frustrating for dealers and sales and marketing teams who must spend a great deal of time working with their customers and explaining the difference between the forecast, the media, and reality,” Tselikis said. Pershing remains confident that the model can provide valuable information to Maine’s lobster industry. “This was an unusual year, temperature-wise, in the Gulf of Maine. I think it will teach us a lot about how to improve our forecast models. Our goal is for these forecasts to be useful to lobstermen,” Pershing said.

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