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Source: New Haven Register

EDITORIAL: Lobstering ban was too extreme

Posted: July 28, 2010
Originally Published: July 27, 2010

A proposed five-year ban on harvesting lobster south of Cape Cod would have meant the end of Long Island Sound’s already declining population of commercial lobstermen.

The ban would have a similarly drastic impact on lobstermen in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

The ban was recommended by a committee of the American Lobster Management Board that advises the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. It was rejected after lobstermen argued that the decline in the lobster population was cyclical and that they were seeing more and bigger lobsters.

Whether a ban would restore the lobster population is debatable. Scientists have not been able to pinpoint the cause of a sharp drop in the late 1990s of the number of lobsters in the Sound. Further, the report on which the proposed ban was based says overfishing is not a cause of the lobster decline.

One of the most likely causes is warmer waters — although an oil spill in Rhode Island and pesticide runoffs into the Sound also have been blamed. What is certain is that the lobster catch in Connecticut is a 10th of what it was a decade ago. At the same time, the lobster population in the colder Maine waters is booming, up 8 percent in 2009 from 2008.

Lobster populations have boomed and crashed before. If the decline here is permanent because of warming water, there is no reason to hasten the demise of a way of life on southern New England’s waters with a total ban on lobstering.

Other measures have been taken to protect the Sound’s lobsters. The legal size permitted for harvesting was increased this year. Lobsters must have a carapace of at least 3 inches. The required size of escape vents in traps also increased.

The Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which opposed the ban, noted that states’ efforts have been poorly coordinated and lacked federal assistance.

Before it ran out of money, Connecticut paid lobstermen to notch the tails of female lobsters and return them to the water to continue spawning. The notched lobsters could not be harvested. Between 2007 and 2008, 67,000 lobsters were thrown back after their tails were notched. New York, however, did not have a similar program for its side of the Sound.

Still on the table is a further reduction of the lobster catch, even though overfishing is not the problem. Wiping out the commercial lobstermen is not the way to save the lobster.