Lobster Shell Disease Sharply Increased In Two Years

Between 2010 and 2012, a fivefold increase in lobster shell disease has been spotted in Northeastern waters, scientists confirm.

While the spike in lobster shell disease sounds alarming, it doesn’t mean that the supply of lobster coming from the region is yet compromised.

Department of Marine Resources lobster biologist Carl Wilson explains to the Associated Press that while lobster shell disease makes some lobsters “unsightly” and less marketable, it doesn’t affect humans, nor does it alter the taste of lobster.

Further, the spike in lobster shell disease is bearing out to be small in numbers overall — three out of every 1,000 lobsters sampled in Maine in 2012 had the condition.

In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, however, lobster shell disease is a bit more prevalent. One in every three to four lobsters caught last year were afflicted, and the AP article explains that lobsters can be “stressed” or even die from the unattractive lesions that result:

“The fishery in southern New England waters has already been hurt by the so-called epizootic shell disease, which is caused by bacteria that eat away at a lobster’s shell, leaving behind ugly lesions. Diseased lobsters can still be processed but are unmarketable in the more valuable live market… When biologists first began sampling for the disease in Rhode Island, the prevalence was small: less than 1 percent in 1996 and 4 percent in 1997. But in 1998, the percentage jumped to nearly 20 percent; since then, it’s ranged from 18 to 34 percent a year.”

South Bristol lobsterman Arnold Gamage Jr. says lobster shell disease doesn’t worry him a lot. He tells the AP that the number of ill lobsters is “a lot compared to none,” adding that “it’s still a very small number; it’s way less than 1 percent.”