PORTLAND, MAINE >> Southern New England's fading lobster fishery will be the subject of a battery of new regulations to try to save the crustacean's population locally.
The number of adult lobsters in New England south of Cape Cod was estimated in 2013 to be about 10 million, which is one-fifth the total from the late 1990s. Scientists issued a report last year that said the historic and economically important species is shifting northward in large part due to the warming of the ocean.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's lobster management board voted on Monday to use new measures to address the lobster decline, which has dramatically reduced lobster catches off Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The new regulations could include a combination of things like closed seasons, closed fishing areas, trapping cutbacks and stricter standards about the minimum and maximum size of harvestable lobsters.
"We've clearly got an overfished stock. We've got multiple problems that we actually need to fix," said David Borden, chair of the lobster board. "The climate's changing. When you do this, there is a cost to the industry."
Lobster catches remain high off Maine and Canada, and while prices have ebbed and flowed, live lobsters have remained easily obtainable for New England restaurants and consumers. And the nationwide lobster catch, anchored by Maine, has exceeded 100 million pounds every year since 2009, which is an unprecedented haul.
But the catch has cratered in southern New England, where Connecticut lobstermen have fallen from 2.6 million pounds in 1999 to about 127,000 pounds in 2014. Rhode Island lobstermen fell from 8.1 million pounds to 2.4 million pounds in that time. The declines have caused fishermen to flee a fishery that is a part of the region's identity as well as fuel for a major summer tourism draw.
New regulations will be developed over the coming months and fully phased in by June 2019, the lobster board said. The board's motion stated that its goal is to help increase egg production in a way that would not be possible without management measures.