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American lobster research and monitoring

American lobsters are important to the economy and culture of Massachusetts. Marine Fisheries biologists perform a variety of research and monitoring tasks to learn more about this crustacean and to ensure its sustainable catch for years to come.

Introduction

American lobster is one of the most highly-prized commercial species within Commonwealth waters. The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) performs research and monitoring tasks to better understand this crustacean and ensure its sustainable catch for years to come. Our tasks involve working with state commercial lobstermen to track the fishery and the health of the lobster population. These tasks include:

  • Performing trap-based studies
  • Sampling for juvenile lobsters along the coastline
  • Conducting lobster maturity and reproduction research

Commercial lobster trap sampling

DMF has worked with state commercial lobstermen to sample their catch since 1981. DMF uses these data to describe the size structure and the sex ratio of the commercial catch. In 2016, DMF sampled a total of 45,130 lobsters from 15,121 trap hauls. DMF also monitored for shell disease, which remains prevalent in lobsters found south of Cape Cod. Twenty percent of the 716 lobsters sampled south of the Cape had shell disease. It is much less common in lobsters found in the Gulf of Maine or along the Outer Cape Cod region. Only 5 percent of 5,037 sampled lobster from the Gulf of Maine had the disease, and less than 1 percent in Outer Cape Cod had it.

Early benthic-phase suction sampling

DMF began suction sampling in 1994 to learn how many settled post-larval lobsters there are in our waters. It also helped DMF determine what coastal habitat is important to the settlement of these juveniles. Each year, DMF SCUBA divers sample locations in our coastal waters from Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and Cape Ann.

Ventless lobster trap survey

For this survey, contracted Massachusetts lobstermen set and haul research traps without escape vents. These traps sit at random locations in our coastal waters. This survey tracks and forecasts the number of lobster, as well as many important bycatch species like crabs and whelk. The 2016 survey occurred from June through September with eight contracted vessels. In NMFS Area 514, the survey observed 19,896 lobsters from a total of 2,851 trap hauls. In the southern survey area, DMF sampled 8,173 lobsters from 1,966 trap hauls.

For more information on lobster research, contact Dr. Tracy Pugh at (617) 727-3336 x138 or Tracy.Pugh@state.ma.us.

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