Canadian fishermen in the northern Bay of Fundy, including the Grand Manan region, hope that the knowledge gained through the trap survey may lead to improved management policies. Depending on the results of the study, Canadian fishermen and the DFO may look at reassessing the lobster closure season to better suit the fishery.
Of particular interest are catch distribution patterns relative to inshore and offshore waters as well as to U.S. waters. Fishermen involved in the study have noted that nearly twice as many lobsters are caught within Canadian waters, compared to areas bordering U.S. waters, an area locally known as the “gray zone.”
Reports from tagging studies conducted by the DFO in the 1970s and 80s showed “considerable exchange between Lobster Fisheries Areas (LFAs), with some lobsters tagged in the upper Bay of Fundy being recaptured in New England coastal waters.”
Canada’s lobster season, which is closed during the summer, runs from the second Tuesday in November until the last day of June. Canadian fishermen are limited to 375 traps. Comparatively, Maine lobstermen are currently allowed 800 traps and in most areas can fish year-round, although the majority of the effort is in the summer.
Grand Manan lobsterman Lawrence Cook described one event in the recent study where he tagged and released 800 lobsters, and the next day only one was recaptured. Subsequent days had no recaptures, even though trap volume remained constant. He feels that this indicates a large volume of lobsters on the bottom. Among Cook and other Grand Manan lobstermen there is concern over the migratory habits of these lobsters. They feel that the lobsters may pass out of Canadian waters during the periods of closure and are subsequently available for capture by U.S. fisherman. Furthermore, Cook described the area around Flagg Cove on Grand Manan as, “the largest lobster spawning ground on the East Coast.” Many of the larvae produced in Canada have been shown to be transported on coastal currents and to settle in U.S. waters.
In September of this year, well before the November opening, Cook described catching 58 lobsters, in one trap, with an average carapace of 92mm. The minimum legal carapace length for keeping lobsters in Maine is 83mm. Cook described many of his traps as “stuffed.”
Commercial lobster gear is most commonly used as a tool for studying lobster populations, however, lobster traps only sample a portion of the natural population and are designed to select particular sizes of lobsters. Lawton, the principal investigator for the out of season trap survey, is aware of this limitation. He is also working on researching lobsters in their natural habitats through field diving research, yielding important information on the interaction of lobsters and their benthic communities.
CLAWS (Canadian Lobster Atlantic-Wide Studies) is another ongoing project administered by the St. Andrews Biological Station and Dr. Lawton. The CLAWS project is a comprehensive Canadian lobster study looking at everything from juvenile lobster habitat to utilizing technologies such as sidescan sonar to map lobster habitat.
In the U.S., lobster research is also a priority. Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe recently announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is awarding the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) a $94,000 grant to continue lobster sea sampling efforts and to conduct other lobster research projects. “Each year, our fishermen catch approximately half of all the lobsters caught in the United States. This NOAA funding will re-enforce ongoing efforts to secure Maine’s lobster population,” said the senator in her Sept. 14 announcement.
Maine’s lobster research efforts are similar to those being undertaken by Canada’s DFO. As a coordinated effort between fishermen and scientists, Maine’s sea sampling project works to track sex, size and catch distribution of lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine. The DMR’s sea sampling efforts have been an ongoing project, but the recent grant money will significantly increase its effectiveness.