If your idea of a beautiful dinner date for two includes a perfectly prepared lobster with churned butter and chives, you may want to make that reservation sooner rather than later according to the New York Post.
Maine is currently in the midst of a very hot lobster market, having hauled in 111 million pounds of the large-clawed crustaceans last year. This huge quota means that the catch comes in at a whopping $434 million for 2017, yet was precipitously down from an all-time high harvest of 132.5 million pounds in 2016 worth a little over $540 million. All that could be set for a major sea change if biologist and science writer Christopher White is to be believed.
His latest release, entitled The Last Lobster: Boom or Bust for Maine’s Greatest Fishery?, goes on to detail the major challenges facing an institutional industry in the small state. Utilizing an array of alarming scientific data to make his points clear, White argues that the nascent period of ideal conditions for the lobster fishery are about to face a serious reversal in fortunes due to increasing water temperatures.
“There is little promise that the current boom will last long. The world of the lobster is heating up,” writes White. “The consequence for Maine could be catastrophic.”
The reasons for the panic are many: while warmish waters are ideal for spawning conditions up to a point, the water in the Gulf of Maine is heating up faster than 99.9 percent of the water in the rest of the world. It is estimated that about 250 million lobsters call the Gulf of Maine home, though as the water grows too warm for them to bear, lobster typically either smother under the labor of respiration, flee for colder, deeper water, or die of exhaustion. Warm water may also contribute to an increased likelihood of lobsters contracting epizootic shell disease, a disfigurement of the shell that can make the crustacean unattractive for purposes of sale and consumption. Some researches further speculate, contrary to popular knowledge, that warmer waters can reduce fertility in the shelled delicacies, with some estimates putting a 31 percent reduction in fecundity on the table with regards to the shellfish.
The lobster mecca used to be considered to be Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Now, years later, it’s nearly 200 miles north in the Gulf of Maine due to warming bodies of water from the equator to the polar ice caps. Seeking what White calls a “thermal niche” or optimal temperature zone for reproductive purposes, the Maine lobster may be finding the water to be a bit too balmy to breathe in as temperatures show no sign of stopping their progressive increase. As waters continue to warm, White posits that this will force an exodus from the Gulf of Maine and will likely have a large negative impact on the lobster population in the area.
Should Maine lobster be threatened the economic consequences would be damning, yet it would also signify the loss of an iconic symbol for the state. Famous for their fresh lobster, the rich and meaty seafood making its way to markets around the world, Maine can ill afford to lose such a vital export, economically and culturally.