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Warming Temperatures Threaten Lobsters In Southern New England

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Fishermen in the Gulf of Maine have been harvesting lobsters at record highs. That’s in contrast to fishermen in Southern New England, where there has...

Fishermen in the Gulf of Maine have been harvesting lobsters at record highs. That’s in contrast to fishermen in Southern New England, where there has been a sharp decline in the lobster population since the late 1990s. 

 

A report (pdf) by Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission attributes that to climate change.

Mark Gibson, deputy chief of the marine fisheries division at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, said warming waters in Southern New England are prompting lobsters to crawl north. But there’s more than that happening.

“There are also increased mortality rates and reduced growth rates of those animals that are remaining in the Southern New England area,” said Gibson. “So not only are they dying faster, but they are growing slower, which has a feedback loop. The smaller you are, the more vulnerable you are to predators. It’s a double whammy—not only [are they] dying faster but growing slower and predisposing yourself to other risks.”

Risks like shell disease, said Gibson.

“Water temperatures can influence lobsters’ vulnerability to shell disease and also they cite evidence that shell disease itself increases the mortality rate of lobsters and reduces their growth rate,” said Gibson.

The number of days when water temperatures in Southern New England are above 68 degrees is increasing, threatening lobsters. But the number of days in the ideal cold range in the Gulf of Maine is increasing.

Regulators anticipate climate change will continue to affect lobster health and its distribution in the region in the future.

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Lobsters have been thriving in cold water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, but they're sharply declining in Southern New England, where lobsters are dying at faster rates, growing at slower rates, or moving north to colder waters.
Lobsters have been thriving in cold water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, but they're sharply declining in Southern New England, where lobsters are dying at faster rates, growing at slower rates, or moving north to colder waters.