The Lost Lobsters of Long Island Sound
By Rachel Berman, Kyle Booth, Hannah Yi, Justin Brown, and Wenyi Zou
Homarus americanus at a local market: Courtnay Janiak
Many have blamed the warming temperatures in the region, which have risen three degrees Fahrenheit over the last decade alone. According to Michael Fogarty, the Director of the Ecosystem Assessment Program of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, “In Long Island, the water temperature has hit the danger zone for lobster and that is why you see them moving north.” Warmer water in the Sound leaves the lobsters susceptible to bacterial and parasitic infections and may cause their food sources to decline. Other stressors, such as pesticides running off the land and into the Sound, may also play a role. Whatever the cause, the future is not looking bright. Fogarty continues, “The lobster industry in the Long Island Sound may be a lost cause. Higher temperatures are usually good for a catch, but the temperature has hit its peak and now it has gone too far.”
Many are now wondering what lobster fishermen will do in the future. Options include following the lobsters, leaving the industry, or perhaps focusing on a new species moving in from the south. Blue crab, for example, has traditionally been abundant further south, in the Chesapeake Bay, but may start to thrive in a warmer Long Island Sound. Relative to the vast number of people who rely on the lobster fishery, Fogarty speaks hopefully for the future, “It’s challenging because fishermen who have been fishing a species their whole life will have to learn the behaviors of a totally different animal, but these guys are professionals, they can do it.” Dr. Vince Saba, Research Biologist at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, warns that the blue crab will need to be fished smartly. Blue crab fishing differs from that of the lobster and timing is even more uncertain as the invading species continues to acclimate to the new environment.
It’s not just scientists who have noticed the collapse of the lobster fishery. After a thorough assessment, the U.S. Congress disbursed funds through NOAA Fisheries for disaster compensation. The programs include a variety of efforts aimed at rebuilding the lobster population and adapting to the inevitable changes. For example, programs through the Connecticut Department of Environmental and Community Development (CT DECD) and the New York State Empire State Development (NYS ESD) department aimed to compensate individuals, provide direct aide, and assist the communities affected by the disaster. Grants provided new job training for lobstermen who were interested in pursuing other opportunities and ran a permit buy-back program that was used to reduce the fishing effort by 25% in New York State. New York and Connecticut have also reduced the fall season by eleven weeks in an effort to further reduce fishing exploitation. Other citizens are also working to restore and protect the Long Island Sound with native resources and invertebrate life that will help clean the water. While the lobsters may move north, many citizens are counting the fact that the Long Island Sound ecosystem will still have much to offer, even in a warmer future.
- Lobster data on OceanAdapt for the northeast US in the spring and the fall
- Fishwatch lobster facts
- NOAA Fisheries information on lobsters
- Are blue crabs the future of LIS?
- Warming waters and dying lobsters- New York Times
- The end of a tradition- New York Times, Robert Sussler
- Responding to a Resource Disaster: American Lobsters in Long Island Sound 1999-2004, by Nancy Balcom and Penelope Howell
- Thunberg, E. M. (2007). Demographic and Economic Trends in the Northeastern United States Lobster (Homarus americanus) Fishery, 1970 - 2005. http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/sfd/lobster/crd0717.pdf