Rising Global Temperatures Are Boosting The Lobster Population, But Not For Long

The state of Maine is experiencing a booming lobster population because of warming seas, but once temperatures get high enough due to climate change, that good fortune is going to come crashing down.

The Gulf of Maine is a major lobster producing body of water off the coast of Maine where lobstermen place their traps to haul in some of the best seafood in the world.

Once on the decline, conservation efforts and regulations significantly boosted the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine even as the unregulated industry in neighboring states imploded because of their own refusal to adopt similar efforts.

So, the numbers were already back on the rise. Then the ocean started to warm up.

Lobsters thrive in temperatures between 61 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and this usually only happens during a certain season. But because of climate change, global temperatures are on the rise and that is causing the ocean temperature to rise as well, meaning the Gulf of Maine is warming, too. Thus, lobsters are getting the perfect temperature they enjoy for much longer, resulting in a population boom of 515 percent in just 20 years between 1984 and 2014.

But what climate change gives is also going to take away.

Water temperature may be ideal for lobsters at the moment, which is fortunate for fishermen, but further rises in temperature will start to cause a population decline that will put many of them out of work.

“The temperature of the Gulf of Maine is creating the right conditions for lobster, so it’s helped our industry—and it’s been a big boost for the Maine economy,” Maine Lobstermen’s Association president Kristan Porter told Ecowatch. “But you never know what lies ahead. If it continues to warm, it may end up going the other way.”

Indeed, it’s a concern shared by Gulf of Maine Research Institute chief science officer Andrew Pershing, who co-authored a 2018 study warning that lobster populations could drop by more than 50 percent in the next three decades.

“Temperature is a big part of the story here,” Perhsing said. “Lobster is likely to decline, and that’s obviously more worrisome in the North, where it has been booming. There’s a limit to how much we can adapt and how much we can manage around it. When you look beyond 2050 in a high-CO2 world, it’s a scenario where fisheries are really challenged no matter where you look in the country. We have to figure out how to avoid that because everything gets so much more difficult in that world—and we can make that case in a really concrete way with some of the fishery models. These aren’t just far away changes that are happening in the ocean where nobody really sees them. There are real consequences for the Gulf of Maine and the communities that live on the coast.”

Deforestation and continued reliance on the fossil fuel industry has resulted in record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the United States is about to pump even more carbon emissions into the air that will exacerbate the climate crisis despite efforts by other nations to curb it.

This won’t only hurt fishermen in Maine, but around the entire coastline of the United States.

That’s why marine scientist Susie Arnold of the Rockland, Maine–based Island Institute is urging fishermen to diversify by getting into aquaculture, or the farming of fish, lobsters and marine plants, especially since most fishermen work for a single fishery.

“A lot of fishermen in coastal communities in Maine are relying on just one fishery, and as we’re seeing the impacts of climate change, that definitely gets people worried,” Arnold said. “We’re trying to help coastal communities maintain their cultural heritage, and a large part of that has to do with making a living off a healthy marine ecosystem.”

If the climate crisis worsens, the fishery could be forced to shutter, putting all of those fishermen out of work. But if they start aquafarming, they could raise and produce their own seafood they could sell to make a living.

The bottom line is that Maine fishermen should prepare for change. In fact, all fishermen should prepare for it because it’s coming.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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