The Island Institute has launched a program to assess the potential effects of climate change on Maine’s lobster fishery; and has recently released a report of the preliminary findings.

It is difficult for climate scientists to distinguish the effects of climate change from the naturally occurring variability that characterizes climate in our region. Nevertheless, based on the interviews with scientists in this preliminary assessment, there is consensus that: 

The full report can be found at:

The goal of the program is to link information from fishermen and scientists in a collaborative process that will broaden our understanding of climate change and contribute to the ability of lobstermen, who depend on Maine’s most valuable fishery, to adapt to its changing conditions.

Fishermen have very detailed data about the area of ocean they fish. Often, this information is supplemented by knowledge passed down from previous generations who fished the same area.

Fishermen compare trends in landings and shifts in abundance of juvenile, over-sized and reproductive lobsters with weather events, temperature trends, and other environmental factors they deem to be important.

A focus of the program to date has been to identify trends observed by fishermen over the past few years, and discuss whether such trends might be related to increases in temperature and other climate factors.

Preliminary findings, based on roundtables held with fishermen in 2007 and 2008, telephone interviews, and survey results, indicate that fishermen are noticing significant changes in the annual pattern of the fishery:

This information is complementary to data collected by scientists.  Comparison of fishermen’s observations with scientifically collected data yields insights into the effects of climate change, both current and potential, on lobster stocks and coastal communities-as well as new opportunities for collaborative research. Preliminary results from the first two years of the program indicate that linking scientific and real-world knowledge is a useful approach to improving our understanding of the potential impacts of climate change.

Much work, however, lies ahead to capture the collective knowledge of fishermen and scientists regarding climate change.

There is a need to continue these roundtable discussions and expand them to a broad range of fisheries. There is also a need to drill down deeper into fishermen’s vast knowledge base through individual interviews and surveys.

Another critical strategy is to give fishermen more opportunities to participate in scientific data collection, and to work with oceanographers to analyze existing temperature records in the context of lobster-landings data, trawl-survey data and other information on lobster abundance.

This information will also prove useful in efforts to research the effects of temperature on lobster molt and movement to better understand the impacts temperature change may have on the fishery.

Further, by gathering historical information on lobster landings, data can be linked to what is known about storm events, freshwater runoff and the lunar cycle, in order to gather information on how such phenomena may impact lobsters.  Finally, there is an intention to create opportunities for K-12 students to contribute data and analysis regarding the effect of storm events and other climatological factors on their communities.