Some Rhode Island and Massachusetts lobstermen say they’re frustrated that interstate regulators rejected new catch limits at a meeting Tuesday. The lobstermen say new rules are needed to stem dwindling lobster populations in New England.
Regulators rejected a proposal that would have allowed lobstermen to choose from a menu of conservation options, providing flexibility for different harvest regions.
Closing off certain fishing areas or reducing the number of lobster traps by 50 percent were among the options the proposal would have provided, options the lobstermen helped craft.
Beth Casoni, director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, represents members from both the Bay and Ocean States. She said lobstermen in the south coast of Massachusetts were in favor of passing the rules and giving regions autonomy over how they deal with conservation.
“The fishing industry, you know, they’re hopeful that managers will listen with them and work with them,” Casoni explained. “And when stuff like this happens they want to throw their hands up and walk away because they don’t get paid to go to these meetings.”
Lobstermen participated in public hearings that took place in May, where regulators decided to set a goal of increasing lobster egg production by 5 percent.
Regional Fisheries Manager Megan Ware said regulators were divided on the vote, with some expressing concerns the measures didn’t do enough to protect lobsters.
“Others believed significant reductions have already occurred in the fishery and no further action was needed,” wrote Ware in an email.
Regulators are expected to resume conservation discussions this fall but have no set timeline.
In the meantime, members of the lobster industry like Casoni expect lobster stocks in England to continue to decrease.
“It’s almost like by the board not implementing this addendum, it basically said to fishermen in southern New England, ‘Eh, keep fishing. Keep fishing on the resource and we’ll figure it out,’” Casoni said.
Although Maine lobster stocks remain healthy, in states like Rhode Island, lobster catch has dipped to roughly 2.4 million pounds, a drop of almost 50 percent between 1995 and 2015.