Southern New England Lobster

Can anything more be done?

by Laurie Schreiber

These graphs show lobster abundance for the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank and for Southern New England.
Courtesy Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission

NORFOLK, Va.—At its Oct. 16 meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) lobster management board decided not to move forward with management measures, under Addendum XXV to the lobster management plan, that were proposed to boost abundance of the Southern New England (SNE) lobster stock.

The ASMFC’s SNE Lobster Working Group has previously expressed concerns that the

SNE stock might not be able to be rebuilt to historic levels; and said that goals and objectives toward that end might no longer be applicable.

David Borden, chairman of the ASMFC’s lobster board, said fishermen in SNE have been shifting away from lobster and toward Jonah crab in the last 5-10 years.

“If you look at just the lobster stock, the Southern New England lobster stock now contributes 2 percent to the landings that we manage,” Borden said. “We should move away from Addendum XXV and move toward Addendum XXVI and XXVII.”

The ASMFC agreed.

The SNE stock continues to be severely depleted, with abundance and recruitment all at historic lows. Causes of continued stock decline are due to warming waters, predation, and continued fishing pressure, according to the ASMFC.

According to the Addendum XXV draft document, “Recognizing the impact of climate change on the stock, the goal of Addendum XXV is to respond to the decline of the SNE stock and its decline in recruitment while preserving a functional portion of the lobster fishery in this area.”

Management tools considered were gauge size changes, trap reductions, closed seasons, trip limits, V-notching, and culls. However, combinations of the various measures couldn’t achieve targeted increased in egg production, according to the document.

According to an ASFMC press release, “After considering the proposals put forth by the Lobster Conservation Management Teams (LCMTs) and Technical Committee input, the Board was divided in its support of the Draft Addendum. Some members felt the proposed measures did not go far enough to protect the stock, while others were concerned the majority of LCMT proposals would not achieve the required 5% increase in egg production. Others believed significant reductions have already occurred in the fishery and no further action was needed.”


According to the ASMFC, SNE stock abundance increased from the early 1980s, peaked during the late 1990s, then declined steeply through the early 2000s to a record low in 2013. Declines are most pronounced in the inshore portion of the stock where environmental conditions have remained unfavorable to lobsters since the late 1990s. Despite attrition among the fleet and fewer traps fished for lobster, population have continued to decline. Declines in catch and fishery-independent survey indices in the offshore portion are evident as well, although not as severe.

“It is believed the offshore area of SNE depends on nearshore larval settlement and offshore migration as the source of recruits (e.g., young of the year lobsters),” according to the ASFMC. “Therefore, unless fishing effort is curtailed, the offshore component will be in jeopardy in the future when the poor year classes fail to materialize offshore.”

In other developments, the ASMFC also agreed to develop strategies to reduce latent effort in Areas 4, 5, and 6.

Lobster conservation management areas are as follows: Inshore and offshore GOM (Area 1), Inshore SNE (Area 2), Offshore Waters (Area 3), Inshore and offshore Northern Mid-Atlantic (Area 4), Inshore and offshore Southern Mid-Atlantic (Area 5), New York and Connecticut State Waters (Area 6) and Outer Cape Cod (Area 7).

And the ASMFC agreed to develop measures under Draft Addendum XXVII to “build resiliency in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) and Georges Bank (GB) lobster stock.

“Since 2012, settlement surveys for the GOM/GBK stock have indicated a consistent decreasing trend in young-of-year lobster,” according to an ASMFC press release. “This decrease could foreshadow a decline in recruitment and landings.”

Draft Addendum XXVII will consider the development of measures for the GOM/GBK stock, including gauge size and v-notch definitions. Currently, disparate regulations allow lobsters protected in one LCMA to be harvested in another LCMA.