Thanks to global warming, researchers estimate that Maine’s lobster population will be forced to move north to colder waters within the next 85 years. It may seem like a long way off, but in reality Maine’s number one delicacy could be a thing of the past in our children’s lifetimes.
Research conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows ocean temperatures are rising at three times the rate of global averages. According to a new report from the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences the Maine lobster population will be completely decimated by 2100 if this warming trend continues.
The New England cod populations have also been dropping dramatically and researchers believe they, too are feeling the heat from global warming. Cod are known to thrive in cold water and can even survive in subzero temperatures.
Similarly, lobster larvae develop best and have higher survivability rates in colder waters – which historically has meant big, healthy Maine lobsters. Experiments on lobster larvae in water just 3 degrees Celsius warmer than the current average showed dismal results.
The larvae developed twice as fast and had much lower rates of survival. The average lobster larva takes 30 days to exit the larval stage, of more than 3,000 larvae exposed to the warmer water, “only a handful” survived.
The researchers did note that the experiments were short term and do not reflect whether the Maine lobster will adapt to the climate change in order to survive. But if history is any indicator, the species will likely migrate further north to the colder Canadian waters. Fisheries in Long Island and Connecticut are already in decline as the lobsters search for cooler waters.
A separate 2013 study found that Eastern lobsters migrated 43 miles north each decade between 1968 and 2008. If this trend continues, the Maine lobster will end up in Canadian waters. In other words, we can predict where populations will end up by studying the pace and direction of climate change, known as climate velocity.
Although no restrictions have currently been placed on lobster fishing in New England due to the findings, this could eventually be necessary in order to sustain the species. Last year lobstering brought in more than $600 million in revenue for a state with a populaton of only 1.3 million. A loss of this income could be devastating.
For now the researchers recommend gaining a deeper understanding of the impact that climate change has on the economy. In the span of one lifetime an iconic industry that has sustained the state of Maine since the 1600s could vanish if preparations are not made.