PORTLAND, Maine – A shell disease that has long troubled the lobster industry in southern New England may be spreading north to Maine, The Boston Globe reported.
The disease, called epizootic shell disease and caused by bacteria eating away at the shell, can make lobsters unsightly and often unmarketable. The disease is not harmful to humans and leaves the lobsters safe to eat, but it can hurt the lobster fishing industry. Diseased lobsters often cannot be sold in the live market, the more profitable side of the industry.
Few Maine lobsters have the disease, but the numbers are increasing. Incidence of the disease grew fivefold from 2010 to 2012. Three out of 1,000 sampled last year had shell disease according to the Globe.
In Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts, about one in every three or four lobsters caught has been diseased in recent years.
When biologists first sampled Rhode Island lobsters for the disease in 1996, less than one percent had it. In 1998, 20 percent had shell disease, and the rate has ranged from 18 to 34 percent since, the Globe reported.
Biologists in Maine told the Globe they are watching the situation but are not yet alarmed.