Lobster and PEI. They have gone together for a century. Now they may be getting even closer.
Of all the doom and gloom news that comes from climate change, such as waterfront cities like Miami and New Orleans possibly disappearing in our lifetime, this one somehow doesn’t seem so bad.
Due to warming water trends, experts say the province of Prince Edward Island could become a veritable hatchery for lobster within a half-century. While they caution there is a lot they don’t know about the spiny delicacies, it does seem almost certain that the trend toward abundance in the Atlantic Canadian lobster fishery is not about to slow down.
“With the temperature increasing in P.E.I. waters and decreasing the number of days a baby lobster is susceptible, you have less predation and an increase in settlement size lobsters,” says Memorial University grad student Ryan Stanley, who is the grandson of a lobster fisherman in P.E.I.
Experts are gathering in Charlottetown this week for the “U.S.-Canada Lobster Symposium”, a three day conference that is sponsored by the The PEI Fishermen’s Association and is intended to look at the effects of climate change on the lobster fishery in Atlantic Canada and the Northeast United States.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which manages 10,000 licensed harvesters in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, notes that lobster hauls are in a long-term upswing. The government agency says that lobster “landings”, a primary indicator of abundance, rose from 56,554 tonnes in 2009 to 66,500 tonnes in 2011, and rose further in 2013 to 74,686 tonnes. At the time of 2009’s catch, it was the second highest on record in 20 years.
“In 1990, lobster landings in the Gulf of Maine—the heart of U.S. lobstering—broke a record that had stood since 1889,” notes writer J.B. Mackinnon. “Since then, new highs have been set fourteen more times; annual hauls are now quadruple the 1990 record.”
Writing for The New Yorker, Canadian J.D Mackinnon recently posited that warming water might not be the only factor behind the rising hauls. He points to the over fishing of lobster predator cod and the fact that lobster traps are “notoriously inefficient” and effectively provide a reliable feed source for the crustaceans, turning the lobster fishery into something resembling aquaculture.
Mackinnon points out that the prevalence of lobster as the dominant catch in the region has happened within a generation, and notes that lobster now represents almost 80% of the total value of Maine’s commercial fishery.
“In 1990, lobster landings in the Gulf of Maine—the heart of U.S. lobstering—broke a record that had stood since 1889,” says Mackinnon. “Since then, new highs have been set fourteen more times; annual hauls are now quadruple the 1990 record.”
And while lobster seems to be everywhere these days, in the ubiquitous casual fine dining restaurant staple lobster mac and cheese , to chowders, to the McDonald’s lobster roll, the “McLobster” (which, two decades ago, required my saving the wrapper to prove to West Coast friends that it actually existed), the rise in availability is being met with equal or better demand from places like China.
Recently, Nova Scotia’s Do Lobster told Undercurrent News it had sold 300 metric tons of lobster in ten months through online auction site Gfresh. The wholesaler said total lobster sales to China nearly reached 2014 levels by the end of June this year.
But at the lobster symposium in Charlottetown another expert warned against jumping to conclusions about the future of the lobster fishery in Atlantic Canada.
“Lobster is a complex beast,” said Dr. Remy Rochette of the University of New Brunswick. “We just don’t have enough information to model all the possible impacts and complications and I think when we use these models to make predictions we have to understand that they have to be validated.”
File under: Lobster PEI