The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) voted in October to move forward with management measures required under Addendum 27 in response to a decline in lobster indices that exceeded the management plan’s trigger level. ASMFC voted, however, to delay implementation from June 2024 to January 2025 at the request of Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Commissioner Patrick Keliher.
Addendum 27, adopted in May, is the most recent update to the lobster management plan. It requires management action — specifically gauge and vent size changes — when a certain level of stock decline is detected to allow more lobsters to reproduce before they are captured by the lobster fishery. The Addendum also standardizes some management measures such as v-notch definition and trap tag issuance across lobster management areas in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank stock.
Addendum 27 requires changes to gauge and escape vent sizes if there is an observed decline of 35% in recruit abundance indices over the most recent three years (2020-2022) compared to the three-year average from 2016-2018. Scientists now estimate that abundance has declined by 39% based on the inclusion of 2022 data. This is a sharp drop compared to last year when ASMFC reported a decline of 23%.
“The fact that we’ve hit the trigger this soon comes as a significant surprise. When the Board voted on the Addendum in May, it was anticipated that the trigger would not be hit for a year or two,” Commissioner Keliher wrote in a message to lobstermen in late October.
The ASMFC Lobster Technical Committee noted that the data used to measure the decline were incomplete. Data comes from three surveys: 1) the combined Maine/New Hampshire and Massachusetts spring trawl survey index, 2) the combined Maine/New Hampshire and Massachusetts fall trawl survey index, and 3) the model-based ventless trap survey index. In 2020, several key surveys did not take place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the spring trawl surveys and the Massachusetts fall trawl survey. Because the final index values are calculated using a three-year rolling average, the estimated decline of 39% is affected by these missing data.
Hitting the trigger means that management measures must be implemented to address the decline. Addendum 27 requires two 1/16” increases to the minimum gauge size in LCMA 1, a corresponding change in the LCMA 1 escape vent size, and a single decrease of ¼” to the maximum gauge size in LCMA 3 and Outer Cape Cod. The measures are intended to allow more sublegal lobsters to reproduce before being harvested and to increase spawning stock biomass.
Prior to the October vote, the MLA submitted written comments to ASMFC urging the Lobster Board to delay the scheduled gauge increases by one year (beginning in June 2025) to address unresolved conservation and market issues with Canada, and to allow the industry adequate time to prepare for the change.
“Addendum 27 was adopted less than six months ago, which has not been enough time to address issues that will arise if Canada has a smaller minimum size than the Northeast U.S. lobster fishery… The primary concern raised by MLA members is that changes to the LMA 1 minimum gauge could negatively impact the boat price for U.S. caught lobster. Downeast Maine lobstermen will have the additional problem of throwing back short lobsters that likely would be legally harvested by Canadian lobstermen. This will undermine both the conservation impact of the measure increase and the boat price, as the lobsters thrown back and caught by Canadian lobstermen could be sold to U.S. dealers and drive down boat price,” wrote MLA policy director Patrice McCarron.
“While we need to take this decline seriously, I heard loud and clear at lobster zone council meetings that we also needed to address the inequities that we would have with Canada if we fished on a bigger gauge as well as the unique issues we have in the Gray Zone,” Keliher wrote.
“The delay in implementation will provide additional time to work with Canadian fisheries officials on management measures that support equity for our fishermen and stock resiliency on both sides of the border. It will also allow the gauge manufacturers the needed time to produce gauges,” Keliher added.