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Tenants Harbor lobstermen help analyze trap density

First printed in the MLA Newsletter, January, 2010.

When Carl Wilson, Maine’s chief lobster biologist, first came to Tenants Harbor looking for lobsterman volunteers for a trap density experiment, it looked like he’d have to turn right back around empty-handed. “After the first meeting, it seemed there wasn’t much chance that it would happen at all,” said Josh Miller, a 33-year old Tenants Harbor lobsterman and volunteer with the project. “By the end, we got a bunch of guys together to rally and get it done.” Even though the timing of the lobster molt threw off the set-up of the experiment, Wilson feels positive about the results of the project, explaining, “From the science side, in the end we were unable to test the impact of trap density. But the overall success story for the whole project is the cooperation. We were able to do an experiment in a heavily fished area at a time of year when it was difficult and awkward.” During the month of August, the experiment tested the relationship between trap density and lobster catch. The experiment compared the catch rates between areas with normal gear density and two designated low trap-density areas out of which volunteers removed their fishing gear. Weekly aerial photographs, underwater video recording, intensive sea sampling and log books filled out by participants supplied a broad spectrum of data. The project’s 13 participants shifted traps out of the two designated experimental areas, reducing trap density in those areas by 16 percent. Low catch rates throughout the inshore area at the time of the experiment caused lobstermen not volunteering with the project  also to shift their traps further away from shore. The trap density in waters surrounding the experimental areas decreased by 14 percent, effectively voiding the experiment. While the project was unable to test the effect of trap density on lobster traps, it did have some unanticipated results. The state’s sea sampling program, which has been in existence since 1985, provides very detailed biological and catch data, but this information is only available at the individual vessel level. Combining the experiment’s intensive sea sampling with the aerial photography gave Wilson a picture of the way the Tenants Harbor fleet fishes as a whole.

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