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Sea Grant announces $2 million in support of 2021 American Lobster Initiative efforts

Sea Grant announces $2 million in support of the Sea Grant American Lobster Initiative to address scientific and stakeholder needs associated with this important fishery. 


This is Sea Grant’s third year of research and extension funding to address critical gaps in knowledge about how American lobster is being impacted by environmental change in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank and southern New England. The focus of this work is based on specific language in Sea Grant’s fiscal year 2021 appropriations language. 


One of the most iconic modern American fisheries, the American lobster (Homarus americanus) also represents one of the largest and most valuable single-species fisheries along the Atlantic coast. The landing value of the American lobster fishery was estimated at $524.5 million in 2020 (Source: NOAA Fisheries). However, ecosystem shifts, food web changes and ocean acidification all present threats to the American lobster fishery in the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, and southern New England. While lobster landings continue to remain above historical averages, NOAA Fisheries data showed a 19 percent decline in pounds of American lobster landed in 2020 from data collected in 2018.


This year’s funding will support Sea Grant’s Northeast Regional Lobster Extension Program in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island in addition to supporting continuing efforts for three research projects initially funded in 2020 and six new research projects for 2021.


The six, new extramural research projects being funded at $1.4 million in 2021 encourage research partnerships between state agencies, academia and industry to examine impacts from environmental change on the American lobster and its fishery. Chosen through a competitive process that included review by subject matter experts, the projects will be conducted by researchers across the Northeast region and they will address one or more of the following priorities:


  1. Life history parameters, including but not limited to impacts of ocean acidification;
  2. Distribution and abundance, including but not limited to ecosystem shifts; and
  3. Species interactions.


In fiscal year 2019, the National Sea Grant Office launched the American Lobster Initiative to support two connected efforts, a national research competition and a Northeast Regional Lobster Extension Program. The extension program, designed to work with communities, is a four-year program that links lobster research with stakeholders who need and can use the results–the lobster fishing industry, resource managers, and others across the region. The American Lobster Initiative was informed by listening sessions with regional fishing industry stakeholders, state and federal fisheries managers, and university, state and federal fisheries researchers. The American Lobster Research Program funded seven projects in fiscal year 2019 and nine projects in fiscal year 2020.


Learn more about the work of Sea Grant’s American Lobster Initiative here.





2021 Selected Research Projects to Advance Understanding of American Lobster

An ecosystem-based approach to American lobster habitat and trophic dynamics: Integrated modeling to evaluate climate-related impacts

University of Maine, PI Brady
Federal funding: $399,036

This study will expand the decades-long work of modeling larval American lobster transport to include dynamics associated with prey availability. The project will use an existing Larval Transport Model to project the spatio-temporal distribution of lobster larvae and link the output to trends in the boreal calanoid copepod’s (Calanus finmarchicus) distribution and abundance and availability of recruitable habitats. Climate-induced changes in water masses that control the rate of warming in the Gulf of Maine, circulation patterns, spatial and temporal dynamics in spawning lobster distributions, and development time of larvae synergistically impact the timing of these species in the water column and may act to intensify the disconnect between larvae and their optimal food source. Through the team’s work with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Lobsterman’s Association, and the Lobster Institute, the study will build a flexible ecosystem-based early life history model capable of answering fundamental questions from industry members and stakeholders regarding changes in ocean conditions, larval distribution, and their relationships to their food supply.


Answering an industry question, “Who’s eating juvenile lobsters?”: An evaluation of lobster predation in the Gulf of Maine using stomach content analysis 

Maine Department of Marine Resources, PI Peters
Federal funding: $128,880

The Maine Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries are partnering to understand what current and new predators of American lobsters exist in the Gulf of Maine, especially as it pertains to juvenile lobsters. To answer this question, they will use current surveys to collect stomachs from five species that have recently shown to be preying on lobster: Atlantic cod, white hake, red hake, Atlantic halibut, and Atlantic mackerel, and from two emerging species: black sea bass and striped bass. This team of researchers, state agency scientists, and industry members will share results with federal research partners, members of the lobster industry, and students across Maine. The research will provide data on potential lobster predators and allow managers to use these data to update current single-species American lobster assessments and work on ecosystem models for the Gulf of Maine.


Connecting the dots’: Environmental drivers of egg production and stability in ovigerous American lobsters in the Gulf of Maine

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve, PI Goldstein
Federal funding: $134,489

A key goal of this work is to evaluate the overall health and quality of ovigerous American lobsters with respect to their egg production and examine how environmental drivers of climate change in the Gulf of Maine may be impacting this key life history phase. This work will address: 1) why ovigerous lobster egg clutch sizes have declined and to what extent this limits egg production; 2) what factors have contributed the most to declines in egg production; and 3) what impact temperature, maternal history, and size have on egg production and viability. The data obtained from this project will be used to inform future stock assessments and lay the groundwork for long-term monitoring programs that include the linkages between ovigerous lobster health and climate change. Stakeholder engagement and outreach will serve to connect these findings with the commercial lobster fishery, fisheries managers, students, and the public through data sharing, presentations, artistic visualization, and opportunities for student learning and experience.


Evaluating impacts of changing life history parameters on the American lobster stock dynamics under different management regulations in a warming Northeastern US

Stony Brook University, PI Chen
Federal funding: $270,394

The overarching objective of this project is to develop and conduct a simulation study to evaluate the impacts of possible climate-induced changes in American lobster life history parameters and alternative management regulations on the lobster population dynamics. The simulation framework will consist of the Individual-based Lobster Simulator, conditioned based on information derived in the latest stock assessments. The project will (1) develop a research collaborative team to help identify “what if” scenarios for simulating realistic ranges of changes in key life history parameters for Gulf of Maine and southern New England stocks; (2) develop a simulation framework for predicting the response of lobster stocks to changing life history parameters; (3) evaluate impacts of increasing temperatures on lobster stocks given status quo management; and (4) compare the performance of different management regulations in a changing climate.


Investigating the ecological impacts of range-expanding species to the American lobster fishery using collaborative surveys, fisher observations, and predator-prey experiments

Northeastern University, PI Grabowski
Federal funding: $305,796

As a consequence of climate change, range-expanding species such as black sea bass and blue crabs are entering southern New England and the Gulf of Maine. Yet many questions about these species’ distributions in their newly expanded ranges and their effects on the American lobster fishery remain unanswered. This study will answer questions about range-expanding species, such as, how prevalent they are in the Gulf of Maine, which coastal New England habitats and depths they prefer, and if they overlap with and consume critical life-history stages of the American lobster, such as early post-settlement and larger juveniles. Answering these critical questions will help evaluate the degree to which novel species range expansions are a potential threat to the American lobster fishery. The collaborative team that will collectively answer these questions includes university researchers, nonprofits, industry organizations, state resource agencies, and lobster fishers.


The influence of season and temperature on the distribution and abundance of juvenile lobsters assessed via traditional ventless and novel early benthic phase traps

New Hampshire Fish and Game, PI Carloni
Federal funding: $160,412

One of the major goals of this project will be to design and test a trap that effectively samples early benthic phase lobsters, an understudied segment of the American lobster population whose changes in abundance could give an early warning to potential changes in landings. Once this novel trap has been tested and calibrated it will be used in conjunction with SCUBA surveys and traditional ventless traps to explore the relationship between lobster density, temperature and catch. Further, the project seeks to better understand the degree to which ventless traps accurately reflect the size structure of the sublegal lobster population, and whether smaller lobsters may be excluded due to intraspecific competition. The data obtained from this project will be used to inform future stock assessments and lay the groundwork for a long-term monitoring program that includes early benthic phase lobsters and the linkages between each life history phase of the American lobster.


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