Lobster Bake

Are rising seawater temperatures hurting Maine's lobster population?

The seafood industry is fraught with problems. From overfishing and unsustainable practices, like bottom trawling, to rampant "fish fraud," or inaccurate labeling, it's not a pretty picture. Warming water temperatures due to climate change poses another serious threat that has been affecting sea creatures and ecosystems for decades. In an article highlighting two recent studies on the matter, the Washington Post caught the food world's attention again yesterday with another potential peril: Rising temperatures may soon affect the lobster population off the coast of Maine.

The Associated Press reported in 2014 that the Gulf of Maine's waters are "heating up faster than 99 percent of the world's oceans." A report released on February 15, conducted by the Cornell-based research group, surveyed the effects of these warming waters specifically on lobsters.

Higher temperatures can lead to a disease that erodes shells and causes unsightly dark spots. Even if the lobsters are OK to eat, the dark spots make them harder to sell.

The shell disease isn't the only problem. Lobster eggs may hatch early in warmer water, before parents have returned from deeper waters to protect their offspring. Large populations have already retreated from New England's warmer water in significant numbers. According to the Portland Herald Press, "the estimated population of adult lobsters in southern New England in 2013 was the lowest on record: 10 million, or about one-fifth the level of the 1990s."

While it's too early to tell whether Maine's lobster populations will be in similar trouble, scientists will be keeping a wary eye on lobster populations further north come spring.

In recent years, Maine has increased its lobster population significantly, thanks to sustainable fishing regulations. The amount of adult lobsters doubled in two decades, even while the catch tripled, the Portland Herald Press reported. Sadly, sustainable fishing practices may be no match for global climate change.