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Maine Fishermen’s Forum Recap: DMR Lobster Research 2022

Staff from the Department of Marine Resources Science Bureau presented its 2022 lobster survey results at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum in March. DMR conducts multiple surveys on lobster at different life stages, including larval surveys, settlement survey, spring and fall trawl surveys, ventless trap survey and sea sampling aboard lobster boats. All of DMR’s lobster surveys show a continued downward trend.

Lobster biologist Kathleen Reardon announced lobster harvest figures for 2022. Maine lobstermen landed 97.9 million pounds last year, with a value of $388.6 million, a sharp drop from the previous year’s value of $742.1 million. Landings remained stable in western zones (E,F,G), but there were declines from earlier peaks in eastern zones.

“The 2022 season felt different than previous seasons,” Reardon said. She noted that price paid lobstermen was well below what it was in 2021 while operating costs were at all-time highs. The abundance of lobsters was reportedly patchy as well. In response, lobstermen adapted. Some chose to fish less, others fished more traps per day or let their traps soak longer.

2022 Maine Lobster Landings and Trips

“There were a lot less trips made last year,” Reardon said. In 2020, Maine lobstermen landed 98 million pounds and made approximately 220,000 trips to do so. In 2022, the landing figure was nearly the same but the number of trips was below 210,000. “This is evidence that fishery changed behavior to stabilize the number of pounds harvested per trip,” Reardon said. “It’s also evidence of adaptation by a resilient fishery in the face of change.”

DMR’s lobster surveys begin at the lobster’s earliest life phase — abundance of larval lobsters in Maine waters each year. Newly-hatched lobster pass through four larval stages at the water surface before settling on the seafloor. The last five years of the DMR larval survey data from Boothbay Harbor show annual fluctuations in abundance. The fluctuations appear to be within the range of historical larval abundance from the surveys conducted by University of Maine and Bigelow Lab from 1989 to 2004. “As abundance continues to be monitored by the annual survey, the cumulative data will continue to build a better idea of what’s normal and what’s not,” explained Heather Glons, DMR marine resource scientist.

Larval lobsters that have settled to the bottom are monitored by divers through the lobster settlement survey. DMR’s settlement survey coordinator, Robert Russell, explained that preliminary data show that while lobster settlement at Maine sites in 2022 was higher relative to 2021, settlement by statistical area was still low compared to 2012 and earlier years. The mid-coast and Mt. Desert Island areas showed a slight upward trend compared to previous years.

Trends in lobster abundance are also monitored through the spring and fall inshore trawl surveys which monitor a variety of species caught in the net. DMR biologist Becca Peters noted that the average catch of 71- to 80-millimeter lobsters peaked in 2015 but the average catch per tow has decreased in all lobster zones since then. “We continued to see this decline in our average catch. The decline has been seen in all four of the depth strata that we sample in and in all regions. The magnitude of declines in average catch, however, has varied by region,” Peters explained. (24)

The ventless trap survey, which takes place from June to August each year, targets juvenile lobsters. The traps are set in between 2 to 30 fathom of water at 276 sites along the coast. The survey results show relatively stable levels in the western lobster zones and declines of juvenile lobsters in the midcoast and Downeast zones.

Average Catch of Sub-Legal Lobsters, 2022 Fall Trawl Survey

Sea sampling takes place on board commercial lobster boats throughout the year. Samplers go out with lobstermen three times each month in each zone from May to November, then once a month in each federal statistical area from December to April. Samplers categorize everything that comes up in a trap. As it has for several years in a row, data from last year indicate that in all areas sublegal catch has dropped from its earlier peaks. That decline is the sharpest in the eastern zones. (29)

Reardon alerted the audience that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s draft Addendum 27 was out for public comment in March. The draft Addendum aims to protect lobster spawning stock biomass in the face of consistent declines among the many lobster surveys conducted by Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The Addendum calls for a set trigger to be defined after which specific management changes would go into effect — a proactive rather than reactive approach.

Northeast Regional Lobster Extension Program Coordinator Amalia Harrington gave an update on the Sea Grant American Lobster Initiative. The Initiative began in 2019 with the goal of addressing critical knowledge gaps about lobster and the fishery. Through federal funding, it supports both scientific research and a regional Sea Grant extension program. One of the projects funded by the Initiative is an analysis of the stomach contents of fish that may prey on lobsters. The stomach analysis project is led by DMR and began in the fall of 2021. Eight hundred and sixty stomachs of Atlantic halibut, cod, red and white hake, and Atlantic mackerel have been examined. Lobster was identified in the stomachs of just two white hake and two red hake.


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