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Young Sea Sampler Keeps Track of Maine's Lobster Stocks

You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a lobster sea sampler, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Anna Dorrance fits the bill. The 25-year-old began work as a Department of Marine Resources (DMR) sea sampler in May 2022 and her enthusiasm for the job is as great today as the first day she went to sea.

“I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Sciences but I wanted to do applied science, not write papers that no one ever reads,” she said. “The data we collect gets used and helps to better understand lobsters and the fishery.”

Dorrance was introduced to the Gulf of Maine as a child when her family and grandmother spent a week each summer in York. “I spent all my time crawling around on the rocks and swimming. I remember telling my mother I was OK when I warmed up enough in the water to shiver!” she said.

DMR sea sampler Anna Dorrance hard at work. DMR photo.

DMR sea samplers are sent to any of the seven zones along the coast for their sampling trips. In her first year, Dorrance did most of her trips in southern Maine. Now living in Gardiner, she spends much of her work time this year going out with lobstermen from midcoast and Downeast harbors.

Lobstermen volunteer to take sea samplers on their trips. Dorrance’s days begin early, based on when a particular lobsterman wants to start. “Our goal is to not disrupt the fisherman, to stay out of the way,” she said. Once on board the sampler identifies everything in each trap hauled and collects data on all the lobsters caught. “There have to be at least 100 traps in the trip and not a long soak time,” she continued. One of the more important sets of data gathered by sea samplers focuses on what is tossed back into the ocean by lobstermen — lobsters that are too small or occasionally too large to keep. Those data give vital information about the significance of the Maine fisheries conservation practices.

Some lobstermen will pre-sort the catch into legals and non-legal sized lobsters for her; others will simply put the lobsters into a separate crate for Dorrance to sort herself.

Samplers count the number of V-notched lobsters hauled each trip. Luke's Lobster photo.

The days are long and sometimes the Gulf of Maine can be rough. Dorrance confesses to bouts of sea sickness but has found that with time, and the judicious use of sea sickness tablets, she can function and get her work done.

At the end of the year DMR puts together a summary of sea sampling data gathered that season. Each individual lobsterman receives a similar report summarizing what was gathered aboard his or her vessel. “It gives them a sense of what the whole season looked like and by trip. It shows them what happens to the data we collect,” Dorrance said. “They are generally really interested in it.”

While each trip is different, one thing remains the same for Dorrance — her enjoyment talking with the lobstermen who participate in the program. “It’s amazing the amount of knowledge out there that’s not written down. I can hear what their concerns are and it really makes me think about research questions that would be applicable to the industry.”

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