Loberstermen Dispute Finding That New England Lobsters Are At Record Lows

Mar 4, 2016

It's been months since the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission released its latest report on how lobsters are faring in the Atlantic Coast. But it’s still a hot topic among fishermen in the Ocean State.

The latest lobster stock assessment found lobsters in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank are doing well; but lobsters in southern New England are not. Most southern New England fishermen disagree with that assessment, according to David Spencer, president of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation and a lobster fisherman.

“I don't think all the fishermen are saying that things are tremendous and rosy,” said Spencer, “but I think the biggest disagreement seems to be in the severity of the assessment and fishermen think that the resource is actually a little bit better than that.”

Spencer said most fishermen have seen an uptick in the lobster population in the last couple of years and the assessment doesn’t reflect that progress because it’s based on data through 2013.

The assessment doesn't include more recent data because it takes time to collect, enter and analyze data, explains Toni Kerns, director of the Interstate Fisheries Management Program at the commission. 

"So it does reflect stock levels at that time," said Kerns.

The commission conducts lobster stock assessments every five to six years.

"And that coincides with how long it takes lobsters to reach the minimum size to be caught," said Kerns. "So that the management changes we make in response to one stock assessment might be seen in the next stock assessment down the road."

Fishermen are waiting to see how regulators will move forward with policy decisions in response to the latest stock assessment, said Spencer.

“That’s the stage where we are now is: what will be the response to this assessment? That's really where the rubber hits the road," said Spencer. "And that is ongoing.”

The most recent stock assessment included data collected from a fleet of offshore lobster fishermen participating in the CFRF's On Deck Data project, which secured a grant to extend the program through 2017. 

Kerns said collecting data from the offshore areas is more difficult and expensive to get, "so we were very grateful that the offshore fishery was partnering with us to help us give us some of the information they've been collecting." 

"The expansion of that fleet will ... be able to deliver better data and more data that goes into an assessment that hopefully results in that assessment accurately reflecting the status of the resource [the lobsters]," added Spencer.

Regional regulators and fishermen are scheduled to meet in May to discuss how to improve the lobster populations in southern New England.