Through no fault of their own, Rhode Island lobstermen find themselves trying to survive in what has been a contracting industry. In fact, a combination of factors threatens the very survival of many in the industry.
The trend is irrefutable. Over the last 10 years the pounds of lobster caught in the Ocean State has steadily decreased as has its market value. In 2000, lobstermen caught approximately 6 million pounds of lobster with a value of $28 million, according to officials at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. Last year their catch of 3 million pounds was worth $12 million, still the highest-valued seafood caught by Rhode Island fishermen in 2010.
In November, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced its intentions to enact a 10 percent reduction in lobster landings because its most recent study, in 2009, indicated the southern New England area – from New Jersey to Provincetown, Mass. – showed depleted stocks, low repopulation and high mortality rates over the last several years.
The problem isn’t new; in 2010, ASMFC considered a five-year moratorium and in spring 2011 proposed a 50 to 75 percent landing reduction.
A decision by the commission on how the reduction will be achieved is expected in February. The commission is the regulatory body for lobster landings in the 15-state Atlantic region from Maine to Florida.
Statistics in the report conclude that the fishery is not being depleted by lobstermen, thanks in part to pro-active regulations. The resource is the victim of a variety of problems; warmer ocean temperatures, the presence of mosquito pesticides and other pollutants in stormwater runoff, shell disease and predation by growing finfish stocks are all considered to be factors in the declining population. Combined with the 1996 North Cape oil spill of more than 800,000 gallons of home heating fuel off the coast of South Kingstown, the fishery has been strained.