Iconic Lobsters in Crisis in Southern New England
The grim outlook comes in a report by a technical committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which recommends a five-year moratorium on lobster fishing designed to give the population a fighting chance.
"Overwhelming environmental and biological changes coupled with continued fishing greatly reduce the likelihood of [southern New England] stock rebuilding," reads the committee report, which strongly suspects that warming waters due to climate change are also contributing to depleting stocks.
But news of the moratorium recommendation has hit those in the lobstering community, and they aren't pleased.
Bill Adler, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobster Association, told the Vineyard Gazette that myriad factors besides overfishing were to blame for the decline in stocks.
"Even if they shut down the fishing, there is no guarantee. The stock is depleted, but they are not overfishing. I am totally opposed to any moratorium," he said.
Lobsters were once so abundant that they were considered trash, and in the 18th century they were fed to prisoners and slaves. But as their market value has gone up, so has the pressure on their fisheries, and this year lobster fishermen in Buzzard's Bay and the Vineyard sound caught only 176,726 pounds, down from over 1 million pounds in 1989.
According to the Gazette, lobster is Massachusetts' second biggest income producer at the dock, after sea scallops.
The lobster isn't the first iconic catch to be threatened in the area. Cod used to be found in such abundance that it drove exploration across the New World and formed the backbone of colonial economies, according to historian Mark Kurlansky.
In recent years, the Cape's eponymous fish have been overharvested to the point where the traditional fish and chips may become a thing of the past. The findings in the report suggest that a five-year moratorium is the only thing that would allow the lobster fisheries to avoid a similar fate, essentially giving one generation of lobsters the chance to grow uninhibited by fishing.
The authors mince no words, saying that they understand "the catastrophic effects on the fishery participants, support industries and coastal communities," but they still recommend the moratorium for the "maximum likelihood" of sustaining a long-term fishery.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's lobster management board will meet July 22 to consider opening the recommendation to public review.