Sea Grant announces $1.2 million in support of Sea Grant’s American Lobster Research Program to continue addressing emergent needs and priorities associated with this important fishery. Pursuant to congressional direction, this year’s funded projects shift focus on operational needs, specifically related to gear technology implementation, research and adoption.
The American lobster (Homarus americanus) fishery, one of the largest and most valuable single-species fisheries along the Atlantic coast, faces economic uncertainties due to recent regulatory changes impacting where and how the lobster industry operates. While previous funding for the American Lobster Research Program addressed ecological understanding of the species in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and southern New England, the fishery’s sustainability also relies on the economic resilience of the industry. This is why Sea Grant’s fourth year of research funding supports partnerships and collaborative approaches to address technological questions impacting the fishery.
The two extramural research projects selected for funding will enhance research on the development and operationalization of gear technologies in the American lobster fishery to better understand and address the opportunities and barriers associated with bringing gear technology to commercial scale in the fishery. Kevin Staples from the Maine Department of Marine Resources will lead the testing and evaluation of various gear modification technologies aboard commercial vessels, thereby producing information on gear system viability, compliance with federal regulations and feasibility of use by fishermen. Erin Pelletier from the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation will lead the testing of data imaging tools and various ship-to-shore communication modes for providing lobstermen with real-time information that they can use to inform their fishing activities.
The projects were chosen through a competitive process that included review by subject matter experts, and the projects require at least a 50 percent match in non-federal funds.
Sea Grant continues to holistically support the American lobster fishery through Sea Grant’s American Lobster Initiative, which links lobster research with stakeholders who need and can use the results. In parallel with the research program, the Initiative established a Northeast Regional Lobster Extension Program in 2019 in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island to increase the American lobster industry’s resilience by providing technical assistance and building bridges among the fishing communities, resource managers and researchers. Additional funding for the extension program was provided in 2021 and approximately $850,000 in federal funding is being made available for the continuation of extension activities from 2023 through 2026.
The American Lobster Research Program funded seven projects in fiscal year 2019, nine projects in fiscal year 2020 and six projects in fiscal year 2021 related to the effects of environmental change on American lobster and socio-ecological factors in fishery management decisions.
2022 Selected Research Projects
Integrating and evaluating non-traditional gear technologies to reduce the risk to whales from fixed-gear fisheries
Maine Department of Marine Resources, Kevin Staples
Project time period: 10/01/2022 – 09/30/2024
Federal funding: $750,000
The purpose of this award is the testing and evaluation of various gear modification technologies aboard commercial vessels, including spring-tag and timed release systems and subsea gear location integrations with chart plotting systems, and the project will collect information on the performance of these systems and how time spent fishing and trap retrieval success are affected. This project will outfit select and voluntary lobster industry participants across multiple fishing areas with either the tagline spring release or timed release system designed by Nova Robotics. These systems both utilize relatively low-cost and accessible technologies to allow fishermen to access a stowed rope of traditional strength and safety, while providing a reduction in the risk of entanglement to right whales by either reducing the strength of the line or the amount of time it occurs in the water column. Electronic logbooks will be given to fishermen to detail their operation, experiences and gear use data for fished systems. These evaluations will inform the viability of the gear systems and provide feedback that may be used to improve system design. The testing of alternative gear systems will produce the information necessary on risk reduction and reliability to make informed decisions on whether they may be compliant with current federal regulations or able to be incorporated in future amendments to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. Beyond their regulatory incorporation, the cooperative nature of this project will allow fishermen to directly assess the feasibility of these systems and produce an analysis that will identify optimal areas for deploying these technologies.
Providing the lobster industry new gear technology in response to regulatory and environmental changes
Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, Erin Pelletier
Project time period: 10/01/2022 – 09/30/2024
Federal funding: $404,564
The purpose of this award is to provide lobstermen the necessary data imaging tools to navigate a changing environmental and regulatory landscape. The researchers propose new sensor deployments, model development and data products that will effectively deliver critical information to the fleet. The researchers will outfit dozens of commercial vessels with micro-computers, sensors and various ship-to-shore communication modes. Giving vessel operators access to real-time information both on their wheelhouse and home-based internet-connected screens will provide an additional source of information they can use to adjust their fishing activity. With direct feedback from stakeholders, the researchers will continue to improve the hardware and software. Improving environmental data collection and sharing within the Gulf of Maine should help lobstermen work in ways that are more strategic, surgical, cost-effective and ultimately profitable, all of which are more important than ever as the fishery faces a growing number of operational challenges. Project coordination with the Northeast Coastal Ocean Forecast System is also a key step towards the implementation of cooperative research methods for oceanographers around the world.