The state of Maine economy depends on seafood from the Gulf of Maine. Luckily, the sustainability of the lobster industry in Maine has not wavered over the last few years. This industry remains as the largest agricultural output, just ahead of potatoes. Although that is good news, the seafood industry within the state as a whole, beyond just lobsters, shows evidence of a decrease in populations of key species over the past few years. This is due to the rise of water temperatures. In response to these low catches, the sustainability of these species has come into question and action to manage them has been taken. In addition to the lowering catches, recent policy changes have made the continuing success of the seafood industry in Maine more difficult.
In my lifetime alone numerous industries have suffered due to environmental factors. The marine ecosystem is no different as the influence of global warming, invasive species, and the rise of sea levels has taken its toll. Lobsters are extremely impacted by sea temperatures and in 2010 the gulf of Maine experienced the most optimal temperatures for lobster harvesting; therefore, increasing the survival, growth, and population of this species. Since that year studies have shown that the populations are declining and will soon return back to the more normal size catches that lobstermen are were used to prior. Some believe that this optimal water temperature drove the lobsters from Southern New England and New York waters into the gulf of Maine and will soon drive those lobsters even further North into Canada. Figure 1 shows a study completed by the Maine Research Institute on how the populations will proceed in the future years if the marine environments continue to change at the same rate.
In another study completed by seven members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, presents a different opinion. This group stated that because of the warming waters a huge predator of colder water lobsters, cod, has been eliminated from the Gulf of Maine. Cod feeds on baby lobsters and with their species moving North to seek colder waters, the lobsters population has had a stronger advantage than they have in the past. A similar phenomenon was studied of the coast of Long Island when their water temperatures rose. The black sea bass and striped sea bass pray on lobsters in warmer waters than cod. Their numbers increased on Long Island and drove the lobsters into colder waters to escape these predators. The Gulf of Maine seemed to hit the most ideal temperature between these predator species in 2010, allowing them more hospitable habitats in the water temperature in the gulf of Maine. Furthermore, as water temperatures rise there is an increase in waterborne diseases, such as black shell disease that have the ability to kill off lobster populations.
A subject that was not explored within this research was the increase in industrializing unexplored species and invasive species. The two species that threaten the marine ecosystem the most are the green crab and codium. The green crab typically takes over the habitats of the peekytoe and rock crab populations, whereas the codium is a spongy green algae that covers shellfish beds hindering the shell fish’s ability to grow in these areas. These species have hurt these populations in addition to weather related incidents. Also growing in terms of size is the interest in industrializing seaweed species. Rather than having a negative impact on seafood that the invasive species have, the seaweed industry is actually aiding in keeping lobster habitats in the Gulf of Maine hospitable. Similar to the forests we have on land, seaweeds and eelgrass, aid in reducing carbon dioxide pollution and therefore are keeping the acidic balance in the ocean. Without this buffer system, the ocean acidity is increasing, which hinders the growth of species that rely on carbonate to grow their shells for protection such as crabs and lobsters.
This past year another large factor has begun to affect this Maine industry, President Trump announced that the United States entered a trade war with China. The result of this was a twenty-five percent tariff on United States lobsters imported to China. This decreased the value of exported lobster by sixty-four percent in just one year and dropped the profits of these exports by over seven million dollars. As of now, the majority of lobsters being shipped to China are from Maine because Canada has not been catching nearly the numbers that Maine has. Many local fisherman as well as wholesale businesses have seen the impact of these tariffs and many have had to lay off workers because of it. China also implemented that all packages being received from the United States have to be manually checked rather than pre-checked. This means that live lobsters are being left at inspection stations for days, leaving them more likely to be spoiled by the time they get to their final destination.
Another large market for the selling of Maine lobsters internationally has been Europe, which has also begun to decrease for other reasons. Canada recently created a brand new trade deal with Europe that puts the United States in another disadvantage. With these two recent downfalls, the future of the industry is now more dependent on its ability to increase the domestic market rather than the international one.
The majority of the news pertaining to the future of Maine seafood is negative. Although this is true, there is some hope. The addition of the up and coming seaweed industry and the implementing of more control over the amount of fish being exported overseas are moves in the correct direction. The governmental policies explored could have a positive effect on the growth of the lobster species over time as the demand may decrease. This would leave more lobsters in the sea to reproduce. This process will take time, but we can all hope for a better future for the seafood industry as more steps are being taken globally to combat climate change.
“Maine Real Estate.” Maine Economy – Facts and Figures, Maine Home Connection, www.mainehomeconnection.com/MaineEconomy.
Overton, Penelope. “Gulf of Maine Lobster Population Past Its Peak, Study Says, and a Big Drop Is Due.” Portland Press Herald, Portland Press Herald, 23 Jan. 2018, www.pressherald.com/2018/01/22/lobster-boom-over-as-population-starts-to-decline/.
The Associated Press. “Maine Lobster Industry Looks to Grow US Market While Tariffs Drive down Demand Overseas.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 20 Sept. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/09/20/business/maine-lobster-industry-looks-to-grow-us-market-while-tariffs-drive-down-demand-overseas/.
The BDN Editorial Board. “How Maine Lobsters’ Future Could Depend on Seaweed That Surrounds Them.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 4 Jan. 2016, bangordailynews.com/2016/01/04/opinion/editorials/how-maine-lobsters-future-could-depend-on-seaweed-that-surrounds-them/.
Valigra, Lori. “Maine Lobster Exports to China Fell Steeply in July as Trump Trade War Intensified.” Bangor Daily News, Bangor Daily News, 10 Sept. 2018, bangordailynews.com/2018/09/10/business/maine-lobster-exports-to-china-fell-steeply-in-july-as-trump-trade-war-intensified/.
Woodard, Colin. “Gulf of Maine Will Become Too Warm for Many Key Fish, Report Says.” Press Herald, Portland Press Herald, 21 May 2017, www.pressherald.com/2017/05/21/gulf-of-maine-will-become-too-warm-for-many-key-fish-report-says/.