As the demand for eco-friendly seafood increases, Gilmore’s Sea Foods and the Maine Lobster Promotion Council take this opportunity to inform you about the many environmentally friendly methods used by Maine lobster harvesters.
Maine lobsters are still harvested the old-fashioned way, with each harvester hauling in 250 to 300 traps a day, one trap at a time. It takes longer and the work is harder than dragging the ocean floor, but Maine lobster harvesters are committed to preserving the marine environment and to protecting this valuable natural resource — and they have been for generations.
In Maine, lobster harvesters have used the following conservation practices for years, underscoring their dedication to sustaining the lobster resource and to maintaining a healthy environment:
- Return to the sea any lobster that has eggs (1889).
- Measure each lobster for both minimum (since 1921 – current minimum size effective 1991) and maximum (since 1935) legal size, which protects young, egg-bearing females as well as large, healthy breeders.
- V-notch the tails of “berried” or egg-carrying females and return them to the sea where they are protected and can continue to reproduce for a few more years until they outgrow the notch and are permanently removed from the ocean (1917).
- Harvest lobsters using only eco-friendly lobster traps (the law since 1961).
- Support the “Maine Lobster Seed Fund” (established in 1961), used to purchase and then return to the sea female lobsters that extrude eggs after landing. The fund is also dedicated to research.
- Refrain from removing eggs from any female lobster or possess any female lobster from which eggs have been removed (to do so has been illegal since 1979).
- Use traps with escape vents, enabling lobsters under minimum legal size to swim back out – and grow to legal size (1979).
- Use biodegradable trap panels designed to release lobsters from traps that are “lost” while fishing (1990).
- Establish and observe lobster zones, creating a more stringent management strategy at the local level. Zones have limited the number of new entrants allowed, and even reduced the number of traps within specific zones (1996).
- Adhere to individual trap limits in certain areas since 1989. Statewide trap limits established in 1996.
- Follow an apprenticeship program (developed in 1999) to promote good stewardship within the industry and to make sure everyone in Maine’s lobster fishery understands and adheres to the ecofriendly practices that are so important. New lobster harvesters are required to serve an apprenticeship before a license is granted and to enter the fishery with a limited number of traps.
- Utilize traps with trap runners (since 2002) to minimize potential damage to the lobster’s appendages – legs and claws.
When lobster was deemed overfished in 2000, industry members were tasked with creating a plan to end overfishing. They responded immediately. Lobster conservation management teams convened and came up with a plan for the entire range of the fishery that focuses on two practices: mandatory v-notching — a painless procedure used to mark the tail flipper of egg-bearing female lobsters, signaling they must be thrown back in the water so they can reproduce — and a zerotolerance for the harvesting of v-notched lobsters.
Note: Lobsters are considered overfished when egg production falls below ten percent of an un-fished population. Since no one can count the number of lobsters in the ocean, or the number of eggs on every female, scientists use biological models based on current knowledge of how lobsters grow, reproduce and die. Current estimates for egg-per-recruit are 4.1% of an un-fished population. The conservation management plan submitted by the industry is based on raising this number to 10.5% by 2008.
Both aspects of the plan were modeled after some of the methods that have been used by Maine’s lobster industry for years. This plan was adopted in 2002 by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) lobster management board in Addendum III.
Lobster harvesters are committed to a healthy marine environment and to sustaining the valuable lobster resource for generations to come. That’s why they harvest responsibly and proudly say lobster from Maine is eco-friendly!
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