Lobster, Climate Change, and Maine. Read 7 takeaways from our ‘lobster trap’ series


The American lobster thrives in cool waters between 54 and 64 degrees but can stay healthy up to 68 degrees. Long-term exposure to something hotter leads to serious problems like respiratory and immune system failures.

As sea temperatures rise, the epicenter of the lobster population shifts north to cooler waters. Right now, the thermal sweet spot is off Midcoast Maine, where Vinalhaven and Stonington lobster fishermen fish.

Scientists warn, however, that the good times will not last: as warming continues, they expect catches to halve within 30 years.

2. The Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, is one of the fastest warming ocean water bodies on earth. And the pace is increasing: in the last 15 years, the golf has warmed seven times the global average.

Scientists say the shape and depth of the golf are two factors. And also the strong currents that feed it and affect its temperatures change due to the melting arctic ice.

3. The potential loss of lobsters in Maine is almost too great to comprehend. Lobster is a $ 1.4 billion industry in Maine, a vital economic foundation for its 3,400 miles of remote coastline. The lobster fishery directly employs 4,100 people and creates an additional 35,000 jobs for dock workers, traders, truck drivers and processors, as well as others in lobster-related businesses such as trap making and boat building.

“When the fishermen do good, everyone does good,” said Vinalhaven captain Walt Day. “And if it’s a lean year, everyone has a lean year.”

The Maine lobster makes up 81 percent of all lobsters caught in the United States.

4. Vinalhaven and its island fishing culture are unique – but the threat it faces is the same that affects us all around the world.

Maine’s second largest port is a working island of 1,200 people 15 miles over the sea, but its challenges are not dissimilar to those of countless cities and industries – including mining, logging, and agriculture – that are forced to cope with a warming climate.

5. Ocean warming is upsetting marine life and disturbances are spreading along the coast.

The plankton on which the North Atlantic Right Whale feeds is averse to warmer waters and, like the lobster, has shifted to cooler zones. The critically endangered whales have followed, putting them at greater risk of ship attack and entanglement with fishing gear. As whale deaths pile up and extinction threatens, the government is placing tighter restrictions on fishermen in an attempt to save the species.

A crew rowed to their boat in Vinalhaven, Maine, the state’s second largest fishing port, on a foggy morning.Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Staff

6th. In an effort to save the right whale, the US government plans to order the transformation of the lobster industry within 10 years.

The supervisory authorities cordon off parts of the ocean for traditional lobster fishing and require the captains to switch to the so-called “ropeless” technology.

The aim is to protect whales from underwater entanglement by eliminating the vertical ropes that connect lobster traps on the ocean floor to buoys on the surface. But the new high-tech equipment is still being tested and fishermen fear that it will not work as promised and that the cost will put them out of business.

7. While Vinalhaven’s industry is weathering immense changes, other forces are quietly shaping the island’s future.

Even according to the most conservative government projections, the Gulf of Maine will rise by at least 19 inches by 2050 and break through 30 homes and 20 businesses on the island’s Main Street.

As the islanders plan and prepare for this threat, some are also trying to envision a future economy that is less dependent on fishing. They experiment with saltwater plants like seaweed and contemplate the unsettling prospect of a more resilient tourism industry. “Do we want to be Camden or Nantucket?” You ask.

This island accepted the adaptation earlier. When the thriving granite trade crumbled in the 1900s, islanders turned to fishing for cod and haddock. When these fisheries collapsed and poverty set in, they turned back to fishing for lobsters.

Her track record suggests a deep resilience. “You can use your ingenuity,” said Sam Belknap, community development officer for the Rockland-based Island Institute. “That is what fishermen do.”

Jenna Russell can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @jrussglobe.


Comments are closed.