Commercial Fisheries News - April 2000

Long Island lobster deaths

An enormous number of lobsters in the New York and Connecticut Long Island Sound fishery are dead and dying. Lobstermen are troubled, researchers are investigating the deaths, and newspapers are publicizing the problem.

All interested parties are asking the same questions: What is the cause and what is the cure? There’s at least one additional question to ponder: How can we prevent this from happening elsewhere?

In the fall of 1998, lobster deaths and reports of a new disease were coming in from widely dispersed geographical locations.

In the fall of 1999, the focus zeroed in on Long Island Sound, where the second successive year of high mortality was taking a toll on lobster landings. Elsewhere, landings remained high.

So, what’s different about the sound? Why hasn’t the Long Island Sound lobster population been able to cope?

Lobsters are long-lived animals. Their natural life expectancy is estimated to be somewhere between 50 and 100 years. The largest lobsters ever measured weighed in at more than 40 pounds!

For some reason, lobsters in Long Island Sound don’t seem to grow this large or live this long. They grow faster than lobsters elsewhere and have a life expectancy of only five or six years. Large lobsters seem to be extremely rare or non-existent in the sound. Could this pose a problem in coping with disease?

Small lobsters molt more frequently than large lobsters. Molting is a physiologically demanding and weakening process. Therefore, lobsters are more susceptible to death when they are molting. If a large lobster is afflicted with an ailment, it has more time to deal with the problem before it has to go through a molt (shed).

If so, the lobster population in Long Island Sound may have a better chance of recovery if larger, physiologically stronger individuals are present. Humans and many other animals build immunity with age. Perhaps lobsters do the same. To find out, research is needed to:

Ask the Lobster Doc