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The American Lobster is still abundant.

Why Can We Still Fish for American Lobsters?

by Robert Steneck and Peter J. Auster

The American lobster (Homarus americanus) is one of the highest valued species exploited by New England fisheries. Further, it is the only species in the world to have been targeted for 150 years and is more abundant today than ever in the past. Dr. Carl Walters (from University of British Columbia) stated that:
Lobster walking through typical boulder habitat.

Lobster walking through typical boulder habitat.

"If we look at fisheries that have been successful over the long term, the reason for their success is not to be found in assessment, learning or management models, but in the existence of a spatial accident, something about the spatial structure of population dynamics interacting with regulatory systems, or about the behavior of the species and fishers, that creates a large scale refuge for a substantial segment of the spawning population."

Lobsters are captured using traps that are very size selective. The traps contain escape vents that allow under-sized lobsters to walk out, only retaining legal size animals. In addition, large egg-bearing female lobsters are released and marked, telling the next lobsterman that this individual is a known spawner and should be released to spawn again.

Map of coastal Maine and Penobscot Bay showing dive locations for the lobster census of 1999 and 2001.

Map depicting dive locations for the lobster census of 1999 and 2001. Click image for larger view

Along the coast of Maine, lobster recruitment is greater in and west of Penobscot Bay than anywhere to the east. Based on the east to west flow of the Maine coastal current, this pattern would suggest that female lobsters release their eggs in an area that transports young lobsters to these coastal nursery areas.

Finding the broodstock lobsters that would "fuel" such recruitment patterns is the objective of NOAA's Undersea Research Program (NURP) supported research of Dr. Robert Steneck from the University of Maine. Using remotely operated vehicle (ROV) technologies provided by the NURP Center at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Steneck surveyed 50 locations along 278 km of coastline from Boothbay, Maine, to the Bay of Fundy. Video transects were conducted using the Phantom III S2 ROV off the R/V Connecticut. Lobsters were located, both in the open and within burrows, and measured using paired parallel laser beams mounted in line with high-resolution video cameras.


Remotely Operated Vehicle outfitted with video cameras is being launched to conduct lobster census.

Phantom III S2 ROV, equipped with forward and down-looking video cameras, being launched off the R/V Connecticut to conduct lobster census.

Parallel lasers (highlighted in circles) are used as a scale to measure lobsters from video imagery.

Parallel lasers (highlighted in circles) are used as a scale to measure lobsters from video imagery.

Data are still being analyzed but, when completed, will allow managers to discuss options for spatial management of broodstock lobsters, such as marine reserves, to further assure sustainable use of this valuable resource.


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Updated: August 18, 2004