Lobster stocks in Atlantic Canada have been flourishing in recent years, ironically not just because of conservation measures, but also because of two ecological disasters — the collapse of groundfish stocks and climate change. But can the lobster fishery survive with current rates and rules for harvesting as waters continue to warm and ecosystems change? In this, the second of a two-part series, we look at the collapse of the ground fishery, which — along with warming waters — led to the boom in lobster stocks in Atlantic Canada, what lessons have been learned from that ecological disaster, and the prospects for lobster.

Freshly caught lobster. Photo: Krista Fulton

If there were any lessons learned from the collapse of the Atlantic cod and other groundfish stocks, one of the most important has to be the perils of ignoring or devaluing the traditional knowledge of people who fish.

Inshore fishers, for instance, understood the importance of the “mother fish,” the fish you weren’t supposed to catch. But this knowledge was often disparaged as not being “real” knowledge, and the consequences of this were profound, and arguably permanent, from an ecological perspective.

In hindsight, scientists now realize that what happened in 1968 changed everything. In that year a lot of the large, old female cod were landed, which removed the accumulated reproductive potential of the stocks.

It became known as the “killer spike” — when one million tonnes of cod from the stocks off Newfoundland were reported landed in a single year — nearly quadruple the average annual catch that had been sustained for at least the century before.

The Grand Banks had become lit-up cities of trawlers — floating factories — where fish were caught and processed, 24/7. The effects on the inshore fishery were felt almost immediately — they were having trouble finding fish.

The reproductive capacity of the “mother fish” was crucial to the long-term viability of cod stocks. They not only produce more eggs — between five and eleven million eggs compared to fewer than one million for smaller females — they also produce larger and possibly more viable eggs, which therefore increases the chance of survival of those eggs.

Since the odds are that only one in a million cod eggs will reach adulthood, fewer old spawners mean fewer eggs, which means fewer cod.

As we’ve seen in Part 1 of this series, the same might also be true for lobsters.

Size matters

Scientists argue that part of the reason nearly 90% of recruits can be caught every year without biologically depleting the lobster stock is because of the large brooding stock of females — one we know very little about.

Rémy Rochette is professor of biological sciences at the University of New Brunswick, and formerly the lead investigator of the Lobster Node, a five-year collaboration that began in 2010 under the auspices of the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN), which was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Rémy Rochette (contributed)

Speaking to the Halifax Examiner, Rochette said there are only a few studies that have looked at the importance of large female lobsters in terms of egg viability and success.

But, he says, “we can safely say that these effects would be positive, and that they would add to the positive effect of body size on egg numbers.”

Rochette also notes that while minimum legal size is arguably one of the most important management measures of the fishery, because it protects egg production, only a small number of regions protect large lobsters with maximum size limits.

As reported in Part 1 of this series, the Examiner asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) if there are maximum size limits for lobsters in Canadian lobster fisheries, and has not yet received a reply. Maine, however, does set upper size limits.

Rochette says that it’s “somewhat puzzling” that stocks in Canada are so healthy despite the high harvest rates and he points to several factors at play. One is that predation on lobsters (aside from that by humans) is probably much lower than it has been historically, because of the collapse of many of the fish species that would be their predators.

“Killer spike” in 1968 followed by cod collapse in 1992. Wiki commons

“Another likely contributing factor is the large amount of food the fishery provides to lobsters, as many lobsters escape traps after having fed on its bait; it has been said that we are basically ranching lobsters,” says Rochette.

Also, as reported in Part 1, increasing water temperature has so far been favourable to lobsters in Canada, given we are in the northern part of the species’ range. But for how long can that last, as waters continue to warm?

And what lessons have we learned from the collapse of the groundfish stocks? Could lobsters be the new cod?

Before delving into those questions, let’s take a brief look at the history of fishing in the waters off the east coast of Canada.

In fact, let’s start with prehistory.

Mi’kmaq fished sustainably for millennia

For more than 13,000 years the Mi’kmaq have called eastern North America home. Mi’kmaw scholar, author and Elder Dan Paul writes that the land of the Mi’kmaq, or Mi’kma’ki, consists of what is today referred to as the Maritime provinces of Canada, the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec, and parts of Newfoundland and Maine.

The Nova Scotia Museum website states that the Mi’kmaq spent “most of the year along the sea coast, taking advantage of the wealth of food available for about six weeks of the year” and:

Fish of all kinds, including salmon and sturgeon, plus porpoises, whales, walrus, seals, lobster, squid, shellfish, eels and seabirds with their eggs made up the bulk of their diet. They also ate moose, caribou, beaver and porcupine, as well as smaller animals, like squirrels. Berries, roots and edible plants were gathered during the summer. Meat and fish were dried and smoked to preserve them.

Pictou Landing First Nation website Netukulimk Livelihood Fishery

The Mi’kmaq harvested these resources judiciously and sustainably following the “the long-held Mi’kmaw philosophy of netukulimk.” The Examiner has also published an interview with Kerry Prosper, Mi’kmaw Elder and Knowledge Keeper at St. Francis Xavier University, who spoke about what netukulimk means for the Mi’kmaq and their moderate livelihood fisheries.

The Unama’ki Institute of Natural Resources (UINR) defines netukulimk as:

… the use of the natural bounty provided by the Creator for the self-support and well-being of the individual and the community. Netukulimk is achieving adequate standards of community nutrition and economic well-being without jeopardizing the integrity, diversity, or productivity of our environment.

As Mi’kmaq we have an inherent right to access and use our resources and we have a responsibility to use those resources in a sustainable way. The Mi’kmaq way of resource management includes a spiritual element that ties together people, plants, animals, and the environment. UINR’s strength is in our ability to integrate scientific research with Mi’kmaq knowledge acquisition, utilization, and storage.

In a video about netukulimk (above), UINR Elder Advisor Albert Marshall says that the Mi’kmaw word for sustainability is encompassed in “netukulimk,” and based on “knowledge that has been evolving over thousands and thousands of years.”

So it’s no surprise that even after many millennia of fish harvesting, the Mi’kmaq did not deplete fish stocks. Fish were still so plentiful that when John Cabot arrived on the coast of North America in 1497, his crew observed the sea was “full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets, a stone being placed in the basket to sink it.”

Roughly a century later, at the beginning of the 1600s, English captains reportedly said that cod shoals were still “so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them.” Cod back then could be two metres long, weighing up to 90 kilograms.

A crew member of a Clearwater boat that fished the offshore in the early 2000s says huge lobsters were common then, and they are rare now (contributed)

Strip-mining the ocean

Fast forward four centuries, and the cod, along with the stocks of other groundfish such as haddock, flounder, and halibut, are now on the verge of biological extinction — wiped out by factory trawlers from Europe, Japan, the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries operating from the 1950s through to 1977.

In that year, Canada extended its territorial waters from 12 to 200 miles offshore and the foreign vessels moved elsewhere to “strip mine” the seas, only to be replaced in Canadian waters by a fleet of Canadian deep-sea trawlers, which finished the job.

As the Examiner reported here, the 1982 report by Michael Kirby paved the way for the Canadian government decision “to hand over ownership of 80 or 90% of the groundfish to two or three companies and make it their permanent private property.”

A 2001 article by the editors of The Environmental Magazine described what happened after that:

The shock came in 1988. New modeling techniques and the latest stock survey revealed that many groundfish stocks were on the edge of collapse. The northern cod stock — by far the largest and most important — was in the worst shape of all. Fisheries scientists concluded that quotas had to be more than halved in order to prevent this stock’s collapse. Politicians were appalled; the proposed quotas would have caused economic chaos throughout Eastern Canada. So the politicians compromised what could not be compromised. Quotas were cut by only 10 percent …

When the 1992 fish surveys were released, politicians finally realized that regardless of what quotas they set, nature had spoken: there would be no fish to feed the plants and working families of Atlantic Canada. The estimated combined weight of the adult cod population was a mere 1.1 percent of its historic levels of the early 1960s. In 1992 the government finally closed the Banks altogether to allow the stock to recover. But by then it was far too late.

Not only did the trawlers devastate fish stocks, they may also have destroyed the fish habitat. There was growing evidence that the trawlers laid waste to the entire seafloor environment, a devastation akin to clearcutting a forest.

Ominous evolutionary signs

Today there is almost unanimous agreement that overfishing, combined with short-term economic thinking, faulty assumptions, as well as government mismanagement and suppression of scientists and science were all to blame for the collapse, as detailed in the 2013 book, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.[1]

Most relevant here is that the regulatory and management systems in place to ensure that cod and groundfish fisheries were sustainable failed miserably.

But there are also other lessons to be learned, and parallels when it comes to lobster.

Trawling in the 1950s targeted the bigger adult cod at such an unprecedented intensity that it favoured the evolution of early-maturing cod. In a remarkable feat of self-preservation, the cod’s genetic makeup changed and they started to mature when they were smaller and younger, essentially so they could live long enough to reproduce. This led to smaller eggs and fewer eggs.

According to Rémy Rochette, the decrease in the size at maturity of female lobsters is “analogous to cod, where fish were selected to reproduce at smaller size as this increased the likelihood of reproduction before harvest.”

Atlantic cod, NOAA

Alfred Fitzpatrick is an independent owner-operator from the Burin Peninsula in Newfoundland who spoke to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in June of last year. The vast majority of fishery income on Burin is from lobster and it accounts for 80% of Fitzpatrick’s income. Fitzpatrick had this to say to the Committee:

One thing I will say is that we’re seeing a lot of very small lobsters being egg-bearing. A lot of the older fishermen in the area where I fish now say they’ve never seen it to the magnitude that it is now. I’m wondering if other LFAs [Lobster Fishing Areas] around Atlantic Canada are seeing the same thing. Is it normal? Does it bode well? With other stocks, they say that when smaller individuals start spawning and producing eggs, such as cod, it’s a sign of a species under stress.

There are two things that could be causing lobsters to mature at a smaller size and have smaller eggs. One is that when it’s warmer, lobsters grow faster, and tend to mature at a smaller size. The other cause could be fishing pressure.

Rochette explains that the minimum size at which lobsters can be harvested may be impacting when they reproduce, “through evolutionary processes.”

If lobsters are allowed to be caught when they’re smaller (i.e when minimum legal size or MLS is low), then, “individual females in the population that reproduce at a smaller size will be more likely to have offspring than those that reproduce at larger sizes,” he says. “And if there is a genetic basis to this variation in size at maturity, then future generations will reproduce at progressively smaller sizes.”

In other words, female lobsters are now maturing when they’re smaller, and it likely represents an evolutionary response to “fishing pressure” and the intense exploitation of immature individuals.

Rochette points to a 2017 study he co-wrote, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, which reported there’s been an overall decline in size at which female lobsters mature in eastern Canada. He says there’s evidence that this has occurred in the Bay of Fundy, where the MLS has historically been below the size at sexual maturity, and where we’ve seen a marked decrease in size at maturity over the past 40 or more years.

Rochette explains:

For example, the minimum legal size in LFAs around the Bay of Fundy and southern Scotian Shelf have consistently been markedly lower than the size at sexual maturity in the region, which we believe has caused size at maturity in these regions to decrease so much over the past several decades. In contrast, the minimum legal size in LFAs of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has historically been somewhat above or approximately equivalent to the size at sexual maturity, which we believe explains why size at maturity has decreased less in this region than in the Bay of Fundy-Scotian shelf area. There was lower selection for change in these regions because females had a greater chance of reproducing before they could be harvested, compared to the Bay of Fundy/Scotian Shelf.

The intense trawling of bigger adult cod also resulted in significant declines in size at age. For instance, by 2012, the average weight of cod, at a particular age, was as much as 60% less than it was in the early 1970s.

Is this also true for lobsters?

Rochette says when it comes to size at any particular age, it’s more difficult to know for lobster because we don’t really know how to age them.

Reading the lobster eggs

Aging a cod or other fishes can be done fairly accurately by counting the rings on their ear bones (otoliths), but crustaceans are thought to lose all such hard structures when they molt, explains Rochette. He says the other issue is that researchers don’t really know what sizes or maturity at age would have been decades ago, which “obviously limits our ability to determine whether these have changed over time.”[2]

Tagged lobster from a study on lobster biology in Minas Basin Photo: Erica Porter

“But I would say that it is likely that this reduction in size at maturity was accompanied by a reduction in body mass at age, as in cod, as energy is likely diverted from somatic growth to reproduction earlier during the animal’s development.”

Another strange thing that fishers are noticing and concerned about is the occurrence of females possessing “abnormal clutches,” where the eggs cover less than 50% of the abdomen.

In 2018, Rochette and his colleagues at the Lobster Node worked alongside lobster fishers from 193 ports across eastern Canada and found that females with abnormal clutches were “ubiquitous” — found in 90% of the ports — but with an incidence of only 6%. The study reported that small females were more likely than larger females to carry the abnormal clutches and that there were a number of potential causes.

Rochette says that while some of the observed egg loss was “natural,” a result of females rubbing on hard surfaces when moving around, there were other possible causes including the parasitic “ribbon worm” as well as what’s called “sperm limitation,” which refers to the fact that there may not be enough males, and particularly large males, to fully inseminate all the females in a population, given the males receive less protection than females.

Normal clutch (left) and abnormal clutch (right)

Rochette explains that while the minimum legal size (and maximum legal size in a small number of locations) apply to both males and females, there are additional conservation measures aimed at protecting females, including the return of berried females (female that have eggs on their abdomen), and in some regions the return of females than are “v-notched,” and thus are known to have reached sexual maturity.

These conservation measures are not applied to males, so there may be fewer of them overall. Rochette says the repeated capture and release of berried females by the fishery can also result in the removal of eggs.

“Egg loss at the population level, from different causes, is overall quite high,” he says.

Females maturing earlier, fewer eggs — are lobsters following the same trajectory as the cod before their stock collapsed? Is history repeating itself?

There are lessons, but have they been learned?

Rick Williams, a research consultant and research director for the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters, is a former provincial deputy minister and professor at Dalhousie University, and also the author of the 2019 book, A Future of the Fishery: Crisis and Renewal in Canada’s Neglected Fishing Industry.

Williams tells the Examiner that the fishery is “always in crisis, up and down, up and down, up and down,” and that it has run through a few of the highs and lows in recent decades since the groundfish collapse.

However, he says that since 2009, the inshore fishery — primarily shellfish — has “outperformed the Atlantic region economy in terms of export value, employment income, landed value, and product values, etc.” According to Williams:

The fishing industry has outperformed by far every aspect of the Atlantic region economy, and even outperformed the Canadian economy overall. And it’s because of globalization, because of China, it’s because of the European trade agreement, because of changing consumer tastes. People are eating more fish everywhere. And the fishing industry has surfed on that transformation in the marketplace. And parallel with that, going back again to the 1980s, 90s, the industry … [with] lots of stops and starts, lots of problems along the way … gravitated towards sustainable harvesting levels. Through co-management, fishermen’s organizations, [were] working with government, working with scientists, through the whole system, advisory tables, integrated planning mechanisms, etc.

So by the time you got to 2010, when the fishing economy started to explode, almost all of our major commercial fisheries are now harvested at safe, sustainable capture levels. We’re not going to threaten the viability of lobster stocks or the crabs stocks or whatever, by overfishing. Other things may affect it, like climate change, but we will not do what we did to groundfish.

The Examiner interviewed Richard Wahle, research professor in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine and the director of the Lobster Institute, to get his prognosis for the lobster fishery and stocks, given that he attributes the current surge in catches and healthy populations in the region to warming waters pushing populations northwards.

Richard Wahle (contributed)

Wahle believes the population wave has crested off the coast of Maine, and he projects a downturn in overall lobster stocks, but not a catastrophic one. Perhaps one, he says, “shifting back down to levels that harvesters would have experienced back in the early 2000s.”

Still, Wahle says he’s worried that harvesters have “overcapitalized or over-overinvested in big boats, and [so they] need a huge catch to support that livelihood.”

He says many of the younger fishers have only seen a “growing” fishery. “Every year has been better than the next, [which puts] a false hope in some of these guys’ minds, I’m afraid.”

However, on a more optimistic note, Wahle refers to a 2018 paper he co-authored, which projects that while the lobster fishery is vulnerable to future temperature increases, “continued efforts to preserve the stock’s reproductive potential can dampen the negative impacts of warming.”

Wahle tells the Examiner that while the eastern Gulf of Maine has historically been on the cool side and will remain within lobsters’ comfort zone for decades to come because of the unique oceanography there, it may be the only refuge the species has as “other areas to the south, west and even along the shore of Nova Scotia, southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, continue to become less hospitable.”

Young-of-year lobster at age it settles on the ocean bottom Photo: Richard Wahle

Rémy Rochette says this is how climate change could affect lobsters:

It is safe to say that the lobster’s ecosystem will change, or I should say continue to change, and these changes will in general probably be more favourable to lobsters that occupy the coldest waters, and less favourable to those that occupy the warmest waters, in Canada. For example, new licences are being sought on the north shore of Québec, likely because waters have warmed enough to allow lobster post larvae to successfully settle and survive there… In contrast, waters in the shallow Northumberland Strait may be getting too warm during summer months for early life stages of lobsters. The situation in the Bay of Fundy is complex, in part due to the bathymetry [water depths] and the tides. For example, tidal mixing prevents the establishment of thermoclines and “excessive” warming of surface/shallow waters, while the warming of deeper waters may increase the area of the sea floor over which post larvae are able to settle. But again, this is a very complex question that needs to be addressed with better monitoring and modelling.

“We don’t know enough”

As the Examiner reported in Part 3 of the series, Lobster Fishery at a Crossroads, there are a lot of gaps in DFO’s scientific understanding of lobsters:

What is remarkable, given the immense value of the lobster industry, is how much is not known about this precious marine crustacean. Scrolling through DFO web pages devoted to the lobster fishery reveals a number of areas where data and information about lobster biology and behaviour are lacking; the pages are riddled with phrases such as “little is known about” (larval distribution), “not fully understood” (lobster stock structure), “difficult to define” (the impact fishing has on lobster productivity in the offshore), and “not known” (consequences of high exploitation rates in the offshore).

A fisher who has harvested lobster in the Gulf region for more than three decades tells the Examiner that when he began fishing he thought he understood lobster, and the longer he fished the less he understood them.

In a recent interview, Boris Worm, marine ecologist and the Killam Research Professor at Dalhousie University, said:

Lobster is a species we don’t know enough about, which is always surprising to me because it’s the most important we have in Canada, as a whole, species-wise. Where’s the larva supply come from? How much biomass is there offshore? Can it be harvested sustainably, should it be harvested at all? These are all the questions, I think that haven’t been conclusively answered.

Boris Worm

And yet, he points out, because groundfish stocks remain so low, invertebrates such as lobsters, crab and shrimp now make up a very large proportion of the landed value of fish in Canada, with lobster being “the most valuable fisheries species in Canada on either coast.”

Lobster is Canada’s most lucrative fishery, and by far, with landings in 2017 worth nearly $1.5 billion, nearly 40% of the total value of the country’s sea fisheries landings.

“Everything is connected”

Worm points out that even if the lobster stocks are healthy, they can’t be looked at in isolation from the health of the entire marine ecosystem. He is particularly concerned about other species, pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel, which he said are in low abundance right now, something that could be “partly due to mismanagement.”

Marine Food Web

Worm thinks not enough attention has been paid to these smaller fish that are extremely important for the ecosystem, on which whales and seabirds feed. Pelagic fish, he said, are “first in line to suffer more directly from the changes in plankton abundance that we’re witnessing, because they are very closely tied to the abundance of their food, which is plankton and filter feeders.”

“If that changes, their abundance will change, so again, this is something we’re observing not just in Canada,” Worm says. “We see it in other regions as well.”

Worm points out that the smaller fish species are very important to the lobster fishery:

There’s a large demand for these forage fishes, to bait the lobster traps and crab traps and other stationary gear we have around the region and elsewhere, as well as demand from aquaculture that uses fishmeal as one of their components of their feed.

Worm doesn’t believe that the stocks of pelagic fishes are high enough to meet the demand for them, and bait prices have been rising.

In fact, the declines in herring and mackerel stocks are not only leading to calls for lower quotas in those fisheries, but also for new lobster bait. It was recently reported that a new “sausage-like concoction” made of fish, oil, and other organic matter is being developed as a replacement for traditional bait sources.

According to Rémy Rochette, while lobsters do eat other prey, such as crabs and mussels, the bait represents a high proportion of the food they consume. As stated earlier, many lobsters enter the baited traps, eat the bait, and manage to leave before the traps get hauled up again.

Boris Worm says the demand for pelagic fish for bait leads to more fishing down the web:

As a result of that, I and many others who have been surveying the coastal ecosystem have witnessed the loss of a variety of fish species from coastal regions, of smaller fish like lumpfish, for example. But even small skates and pollock and other species that were once quite common in the immediate coastal zone are now quite rare. Even scorpion fish, and species of that nature tend to be at low abundance. And why? There’s probably a variety of factors and no definitive study has been done. It is well known that a lot of these species are used as bait in the lobster fishery. So you see how everything is connected. And we’re really not understanding those connections that ripple through the ecosystem all that well. But what’s beyond doubt, both from a science perspective and from fishermen’s observations, is that the ecosystem is changing very rapidly and we’re concerned about that.

Worm notes that lobster stocks are “probably close to an all-time high” making them “very, very important resources.” But with climate change and its effects on the marine ecosystem well underway, he warned that the unusually high abundance may not be there forever, and that raises the question:

What kind of insurance do we have in the system that helps us to buffer any possible decline in that particular resource? And the answer is probably not much, because there’s so much relying on these invertebrate stocks right now.

None of this bodes well for the future of any fishery, and Worm believes there is a need for scientists and fishers and policy-makers to work together to “build insurance and resilience into the system so that once these changes accelerate or take a turn we don’t like, we can adapt to them.”

After all, the future of the last, best fishery hangs precariously in the balance.

Update: Dec. 1.

As referenced throughout this series, the Halifax Examiner submitted a  list of questions to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on Nov. 18. On November 30, the Examiner finally received these responses:

Is v-notching of females required in the offshore lobster fishery? If so, what are the exact regulations? If no, why not?

No. V-notching of females is not required in the offshore lobster fishery [i.e. in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 41].  However, if a v-notched lobster is caught in the offshore lobster fishery, it must be returned to the water.

There are only two LFAs in Maritimes Region where v-notching is required.  These are LFAs 31B and 32.  In these LFAs, licence conditions require that a certain weight of female lobsters be v-notched and returned to the water each season.  It was a measure adopted in these LFAs to promote lobster productivity.  Other inshore LFAs adopted different measures to promote productivity.

The management framework for the offshore lobster fishery differs from that for the inshore in that the offshore fishery is managed under a total allowable catch.  (Note: The offshore lobster fishery in Maritimes Region is the only lobster fishery in Atlantic Canada with a total allowable catch.)

While there are similarities in the management frameworks for the inshore and offshore lobster fisheries, and between fishing areas in the inshore, there are also differences. The fundamental principle is that conservation measures adopted for each fishing area is sufficient for ensuring that the fishery is sustainable for the lobster stocks.

Are berried females returned to the sea in the offshore lobster fishery? If so, what are the exact regulations?

Yes. The legal requirement to return berried lobsters to the sea in the offshore fishery is found in section 59(3) of the Atlantic Fishery Regulations, 1985.

Are there maximum sizes permitted for female lobsters? If so, what is the maximum? If not, why not … as there are maximum size limits in the Maine lobster fishery?

In regards to the offshore lobster fishery, there is no maximum size limit in the offshore lobster fishery.  However, the licence conditions for the offshore lobster fishery authorize the operator of the licence to release large female and male lobsters if the operator so chooses (large is defined as greater than 6lbs or 2.73 kg). The release of large lobsters is authorized because survival rates are expected to be high.

However, there is no requirement to release large lobsters because conservation objectives in the offshore lobster fishery can be achieved through the other conservation measures that apply to the fishery.  Notably, there is a total allowable catch in the offshore lobster fishery.  Other important conservation measures are a minimum legal size and, as stated above, a requirement to release berried females.

Why are there different conservation measures inshore and offshore?

The offshore fishery developed at a different time from the inshore fisheries, and the fishery participants had different social and economic interests. Since the measures identified in the management framework have been working well from a conservation standpoint, there has not been a need to consider changing them.

Why, for example, is there year-round lobster harvesting offshore?

One of the functions of the fishing seasons in the inshore is to limit effort.  Because the offshore fishery is managed under a total allowable catch, there is no need for such a limit.

In addition, the total allowable catch in the offshore is set at a very conservative level, such that any incidental mortality of lobsters is not presenting a risk to sustainability or stock status.

The effectiveness of current measures in meeting economic and conservation objectives in the offshore fishery is monitored on an ongoing basis, as it is in all fisheries.

And, as asked before, are there maximum size limits on the inshore or the offshore? If so, please let me know where. And if not, why not, as this would protect large lobsters that produce proportionally more eggs?

There are no maximum sizes in the offshore lobster fishery.  The only lobster fishery in Maritimes Region with a maximum size is LFA 30.  However, LFAs 28 and 29 have a maximum size for entrance hoops in traps, which will limit the size of lobsters that are able to enter into them.  For more information on different management measures in the inshore fisheries, see Table 2 of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan: https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fisheries-peches/ifmp-gmp/maritimes/2019/inshore-lobster-eng.html

smaller fish like More broadly, there are various options for promoting egg production in lobster fisheries.  These options have different effects on egg production, as well as different implications for economics and practicality.  The measures in place currently reflect how the management of the various fisheries have evolved over time and the preferences of the participants.  The fundamental principle is that the measures in place are adequate for ensuring the sustainability and health of the resource.

[1] Linda Pannozzo’s 2013 book, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: An Investigation into the Scapegoating of Canada’s Grey Seal, provides a detailed analysis of the reasons for the cod collapse, the rise of the grey seal population, and the complex and highly disputed relationship between the two.

[2] According to Rochette, there is a technique that has been recently proposed to age crustaceans based on counts of bands inside different ossicles of the gastric mill, which has now shown promise in a number of species, but is still not fully accepted, in large part because scientists can’t really explain how those bands would be retained though molts.


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Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia. email: linda@halifaxexaminer.ca; Website: lindapannozzo.ca

Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. This is a very disturbing story that you have been telling through your series of articles on the lobster fishery. It sounds like a lot of people have concerns about whether this level of fishing is desirable or sustainable but no one is ready to make an unequivocal declaration.
    Is there anyone looking into the impact of a collapse of the lobster fishery similar to the Newfoundland cod fishery?