DMR Lobster Research Collaborative Projects Underway

As conditions continue to change in the Gulf of Maine, it is crucial that biologists and oceanographers work together to generate the science needed to sustainably manage the lobster fishery. The stock assessment model and other management tools depend on data that accurately describe lobster distribution, abundance and biology. The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) recognized the need for a collaborative approach to lobster research in Maine and formed the DMR Lobster Research Collaborative (LRC) earlier this year. The LRC is supported by a $340,000 investment from the Lobster Research, Education and Development (RED) fund supported by the sale of lobster license plates.
Through a request for proposals, DMR solicited collaborative research projects focused on improved science for the management of the lobster fishery. The RED board and DMR scientists reviewed ten proposals in April and selected six research projects targeting lobster distribution, shifts in lobster habitat and the changing environment. The board funded three projects proposed by UMaine Marine Science Professor Yong Chen. Dr. Chen and his graduate students were awarded a total of $190,000 for three projects that will be completed in the next two years. The objective of these proposals is to build computer simulations to project climate-driven changes in lobster distribution and habitat, evaluate the effectiveness of DMR monitoring programs and predict the effectiveness of conservation measures such as V-notching in warming Gulf of Maine waters.

Jesica Waller is DMR’s lobster biologist.
DMR photo.

Dr. Kathy Mills and Dr. Andy Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) were awarded $80,000 to compile and develop indicators that show how the Gulf of Maine is changing over time and examine how these indicators affect the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank lobster stock. Potential indicators include sea surface temperature, bottom temperature, salinity and position of the Maine Coastal Current. UMaine Research Professor Rick Wahle was awarded $40,000 to develop computer simulations that will be used to examine the relationship between lobster larvae and their likely zooplankton prey across the Gulf of Maine. This research team will examine correlations between existing small-scale datasets and larger Gulf of Maine trends. UMaine Marine Science professor Robert Steneck was awarded $10,000 to supplement his work on changes in lobster settlement, kelp bed distribution and density of legal and sub-legal lobsters along the coast of Maine over the last few decades. Dr. Steneck and his team will conduct scuba surveys at four sites originally surveyed between 1989-1999. These sites include sampling areas in York, Pemaquid, Mt. Desert and Jonesport. In addition, the board awarded $5,000 each to Dr. Nick Record, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; Dr. Jeff Runge, research scientist at GMRI and UMaine; Dr. Eric Annis, biology professor at Hood College; and Dr. Damian Brady, assistant research professor at UMaine. These scientists will contribute their expertise on a broad range of topics and provide data to supplement LRC-funded projects. All of these projects will take place over a two-year period (2018-2020) and researchers will meet quarterly to give updates on their work and discuss issues relevant to lobster research in Maine. At the conclusion of the LRC each group will produce a final report and contribute to a summary document describing the findings of each project.
The LRC met for the first time in October in West Boothbay Harbor. Fifty people from across New England attended this meeting including stock assessment scientists, industry members and representatives from several state and federal agencies. In the morning, the LRC-funded groups introduced themselves and gave an overview of their proposed work. Later in the day DMR lobster biologist Kathleen Reardon presented a summary of DMR’s lobster monitoring programs and the types of data collected by these programs. I gave a presentation about two new lobster research projects that DMR undertook this summer. We began a study to determine the length at which female lobsters reach maturity along the coast of Maine. This study will enhance our understanding of female lobster growth, egg production and changes in reproductive development over time. We also conducted a survey of lobster larvae in the Boothbay area to examine larval distribution and abundance in this region. Maine Sea Grant facilitated two discussion sessions focused on the goals of the LRC and future lobster research priorities. Members of the LRC agreed that one of the goals of this group is to provide an opportunity for researchers from different institutions to share observations, data and research methodologies.
The LRC provides a rare opportunity to develop new lobster research projects and collaborations that will continue past the duration of the LRC. The next LRC meeting will take place in February in West Boothbay Harbor. During this meeting LRC members will provide updates on their projects and discuss how to work together as their research develops. For more information about these meetings or the LRC in general contact me at jesica.d.waller@maine.gov.