There aren’t many foods more closely associated with Maine than the lobster.
So it’s pretty scary that this valued American crustacean could one day soon become a Canadian treasure — a change that could have a devastating impact on Maine’s local economy.
The problem is, lobsters like cold water. And oceans are warming, especially in New England.
The waters in the Gulf of Maine, specifically, are warming 99% faster than the rest of the world’s oceans.
And as a result, lobsters are moving north toward colder climates.
Over the last decade, southern lobster fisheries along Long Island and Connecticut have already seen their catches drop due to lobsters moving north into Maine, which hauled record catches during the same time period, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Maine lobsters have already moved north about 43 miles per decade between 1968 and 2008, according to a 2013 study.
The visual below illustrates this change over time, with red areas representing the highest lobster densities:
While we can’t know for sure what the future holds, it seems that as ocean temperatures continue to increase, lobsters will likely keep moving north, study researcher Malin Pinsky, of Rutgers University, told Business Insider.
At a rate of 43 miles per decade, it could only be 30 years or so until Maine lobsters are mostly in Canadian waters.
Two factors will impact how quickly this happens, Pinsky told Business Insider: Greenhouse gas production and the rate of ocean temperature increase.
If temperatures and gasses continue to rise, Pinsky says lobsters moving to Canada is, “not out of the question.”
Lobster is Maine’s biggest fishery, the economic heart of many of Maine’s coastal and island communities. And locals are already adjusting their lives due to migrating lobster populations.
Fishermen used to go out at 5 a.m. and come home at 3 p.m.
But now, Susie Arnold, a researcher at the Island Institute who works with local communities, says that fisherman are beginning to buy larger boats to make longer, even overnight, trips to where the lobsters now live.
And while government climate reports recognise moving lobster fisheries as a potential issue, Maine doesn’t have any solutions in place to help the fisherman.
So local communities, with the help of people at the Island Institute, are looking into other fisheries, like shellfish and seaweed aquaculture, to diversify their income if the local lobster fishery collapses.
Some fishermen may adapt by diversifying, but a 2014 report from The U.S. Global Change Research Program says these climate-related changes “may push these fishermen beyond their ability to cope.”
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