The Maine way to boost lobster stocks


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

Southern New England lobstermen (or should I say lobsterpersons?) may have hurt themselves by taking as many lobsters as they can, without looking at the species’ ability to reproduce. It may be a case of “the tragedy of the commons’’ -- wherein individual users in a shared-resource system acting independently in what they see as their own self-interest undermine the common good by depleting that resource through their collective action.

Has that attitude had as much impact on the plunging lobster stocks along the Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts as environmental changes, especially warming seas? Hard to tell. Commercial fishermen are notoriously independent and secretive about their catches.

You can’t but think of that when you learn that many Maine lobsterman have long used what seems to be a very effective conservation method. As reported by Fred Bever for Maine Public Radio:

For years, Maine lobstermen have used "’V-notching’: when they found an egg-bearing female in their traps, they would clip a ‘V’ into the end of its tail, and throw it back. The next time it turns up in someone's trap, even if it's not showing eggs, the harvester knows it's a fertile female, and throws it back. Later, the lobstermen also pushed the Legislature to impose limits on the size of the lobster they can keep — because the biggest ones produce the most eggs.’’

“And those fertile females have been doing that job very well in Maine. Since the 1980s, lobster abundance here has grown by more than 500 percent, with landings shooting up from fewer than 20 million pounds in 1985, to more than 120 million pounds in 2015 with a value of more than a half billion dollars.’’

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