Protecting Our Oceans and Coasts

March 1, 2021

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The Maine Lobster fishery has long prided itself on being a sustainable industry, and has self-imposed rules  to protect the resource dating back to the 1800s. The tradition of lobstering has been passed down for generations and is a cornerstone of the coastal culture and economy.  Lobstermen and suppliers know that in order to preserve the fishery and the lobstering way of life, they must protect the lobster stocks in the Gulf of Maine as well the coastal and marine environment.  

To that end, the industry has consistently partnered with the scientific community and environmental organizations to adapt their techniques, equipment, and practices to meet changing environmental needs. 

The fishery contributes to the broader health of the coastal and marine environment in a myriad of ways, including sustainable on-shore operations, minimizing the impact of gear on the marine environment, programs to study and protect species in the Gulf of Maine, minimizing the impact of invasive species, reducing acidity and CO2 in the water, and more. 

Preserving Our Coastal Environment 

Lobstermen have been quick to adapt to ensure their fishing gear has the lowest impact possible on the surrounding marine ecosystem. Over the years this has meant:

  • Opposing legislation that would allow dragging the ocean floor as a means to catch lobster, a practice that would be highly disruptive to marine life and counterproductive to years of sustainability practices.
  • Using traps with escape vents to ensure inadvertently caught marine life can escape.
  • Removing 27,000 miles of floating ground line from the water to prevent entanglements of larger marine animals. 

In addition to low-impact gear, members of the fishery have contributed time and funds to sustaining the natural habitat of many native species and their environment in the face of global warming. 

  • Many lobstermen farm kelp in addition to lobstering. Kelp has proven effective at absorbing carbon dioxide from the water around it – lowering acidity and slowing the process of ocean acidification. This offers long-term benefits for all marine life in the Gulf of Maine.
  • Maine fishermen proactively manage invasive green crabs from overtaking other native species, keeping those that come up in traps as bycatch and using invasive green crabs as bait. 
  • Luke’s Lobster contributes to several organizations geared at environmental protection through the Keeper Fund, a charitable collaboration that donates funds and volunteers time with the mission of keeping coastal waterways healthy. Recent projects have contributed to studying the population health of soft shell clams, island and coastal cleanup efforts, and research into ocean acidification.

The industry has also taken steps to reduce waste and lower their carbon footprint by adopting renewable energy sources and updating processes to minimize environmental impacts shore side. 

  • Potts Harbor Lobster was Maine’s first commercial fishing facility to include solar energy in 2012, which now provides 44% of the energy on the wharf.  Their system will keep an estimated 20,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year.
  • Cranberry Isle Fishing Co-Op collaborated with government, nonprofits, and businesses to switch to 100% solar power, which will offset 40 tons of carbon emissions annually and fully power the co-op.
  • With the goal of being the first carbon neutral seafood company in the country within five years, Ready Seafood has taken several steps to reduce waste, including developing custom reusable coolers and converting shell waste from their processing plant into fertilizer. Ready is also in the process of developing a solar farm on their property to reduce energy consumption.
  • Lobstermen in York, ME have led an annual beach cleanup for over 25 years, inviting members of their community to join them in removing plastics, trash, and other harmful debris from the beach.
  • Lobstermen in Matinicus and Tenants Harbor have been working together to clean up beaches and coastlines, using their boats to haul larger pieces of trash and clean up remote areas.

Ensuring the Population Health of Maine Lobster

In addition to protecting the coastal and marine environment, Maine Lobstermen have long taken measures to protect the resource, imposing strict regulations on their own fishery. These rules are passed down through the apprenticeship program all lobstermen must complete before earning a license and ensure a strong breeding population will always exist in the Gulf of Maine: 

  • Tail Notching: Female lobsters with visible eggs cannot be harvested. Before releasing her, the harvester notches her tail to identify her as a good breeder, thus protecting her for life from being harvested.
  • Minimum Size Limit: Minimum 3 1⁄4” carapace measurements allow juvenile lobsters the chance to mature and reproduce before they can be harvested.
  • Maximum Size Limit: Maximum 5” carapace measurements protect the large, healthy breeding stock.
  • Apprentice Program: New harvesters must apprentice with veterans to learn the regulated, sustainable practices.
  • Trap Limits: The total number of traps per harvester is limited by both the state and the individual lobster zones.
  • Harvest Method: Harvesting in Maine is by trap only — no dragging or diving is allowed. Traps include escape vents for under size lobsters as well as biodegradable escape hatches to free lobsters in case traps are lost.

From throwing back undersized lobsters to identifying and returning egg-bearing female lobsters, lobstermen take great pride in caring for the resource that provides them their livelihoods. The fishery consists of independent fishermen on small day boats who work alongside their neighbors on the water each day – meaning that complying with these measures not only sustains the environment, but also the community. As a result, Maine has an exceptionally high rate of compliance with these regulations.

In addition to the sustainable practices performed each day by lobstermen on the water, the fishery also collaborates with scientific and academic institutions to study population health. Throughout the year, several surveys are conducted to understand breeding habits and gather data on lobsters at different stages of the life cycle, including: 

  • Settlement Survey: This survey studies “young of the year” lobster, or those that have recently hatched, before they settle on the ocean floor. It looks at the abundance and distribution of young lobsters on the surface of the ocean.
  • Inshore Trawl Survey: This is conducted every spring and fall to measure the abundance and distribution of juvenile and adult Maine Lobsters.
  • Ventless Trap Survey: Ventless traps are used to catch lobsters in the juvenile phase to measure the abundance of the juvenile population. The lobsters are then released.
  • Sea Sampling: The Maine Department of Marine Resources collects at-sea catch/effort and biological information on both legal and discarded lobsters, with the data used for a variety of regulatory and scientific practices.

These studies offer valuable information to the industry about the habits of the lobster population, informing daily practices.

The Maine Lobster fishery has long been committed to preserving and protecting the coast and waterways that have allowed it to thrive for hundreds of years, so that it will continue to flourish for generations to come. The industry continues to adapt, minimizing environmental impacts and proactively address changing conditions on and off the water for long-term environmental benefits.