International Conference Examines Threats to Lobster Population
When people think about the effects of climate change, they’re probably not immediately wondering how the world’s warming will affect the sea crustacean we know as the lobster. But that was a central concern for the keynote speakers and the researchers who presented at the 11th International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology and Management, held June 4-9 in Portland, Maine. CGS Senior Lecturer Kari Lavalli co-chaired the conference with Rick Wahle, research professor at the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences.
U.S. Senator Angus King (I– Maine) opened the conference with a keynote speech, warning against proposed cuts in federal science funding and telling the audience that data is key to safeguarding Maine’s $533.1 million a year fishery. “This is not an abstract problem or something about environmentalists versus non-environmentalists,” King said. “This is very practical.”
The conference’s 200-plus researchers attended talks on topics such as: how temperature affects diseases in lobsters, how changing environmental conditions affect chemosensory abilities, how thermal stress affects season movements, climate-related shifts in the distribution of American lobsters, and more.
Researchers probed a question troubling both biologists and lobstermen: the number of baby lobsters in the Gulf of Maine is falling even though fishermen are still seeing high value and volume in their catches. The Portland Press Herald covered the “great disconnect” between these two facts: “Researcher after researcher at last week’s International Conference and Workshop on Lobster Biology & Management in Portland talked about work underway to explore the disconnect, ranging from an examination of how rising ocean temperatures might have forced the larvae to ‘settle’ in new spots where surveyors aren’t counting, to whether new predators are eating them or gobbling up all their food supply.”
Lavalli spoke to the radio station WCAI about another trouble facing New England lobsters. Warming waters can increase the incidence of shell disease and bring new predators to the lobster’s waters. In one of her panels, Lavalli spoke on the slipper lobster, a species that is commercially fished but understudied, and why it is less susceptible to shell disease even though it lives in waters that are much warmer than our New England lobsters. Understanding why some species are susceptible to disease and some are not could be key to protecting the lobster population from the effects of climate change.
In fact, one workshop focused on three diseases seen in lobsters and how rising temperatures and increased ocean acidification affects the lobster’s shell and immune system response. “The take-home message from this workshop was that we still have much to learn about diseases in the marine realm and there is a real need to train a new generation of pathologists who will recognize, report, and study these diseases,” said Lavalli. “Attendees warned that the U.S. lobster fishery is at particular danger of having a major disease outbreak in the near future.”
A threat to the lobster fishery would be a major blow to Maine’s economy. University of Maine Professor Robert Steneck noted that lobster represents almost the entirety of Maine’s fishing industry, and he urged the state to diversify and plan for an uncertain future.
The conference received press coverage from Portland Press Herald, Maine Public, Maine Biz, Fox 23, WCSH6, and the Boston Globe. The Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning at BU College of General Studies was among the conference’s sponsors.