Commercial Fisheries News - December 2000

Canada lobsters take a beating

A large storm system in October washed hundreds of lobsters up on beaches along the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and especially Prince Edward Island (PEI). Waves generated by powerful winds also smashed wharves and breakwaters during extreme high tides.

“The last time we had such a severe storm and lobster beaching was 1986,” said Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DF0) lobster biologist Marc Lanteigne. “These storms are catching lobsters by surprise, before they have the chance to move into deeper waters for the winter.”

Lobsters in the area usually start moving out by this time of year because the shallow water freezes over in the winter.

Lanteigne explained that smaller, localized versions of this phenomenon occur every two to three years along the coastline in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This suggests that lobster abundance remains high in the area in spite of the strandings. In contrast, beached lobsters are extremely rare in Southwest Nova Scotia and throughout the Gulf of Maine where lobsters are also found in great abundance.

Perhaps the lobster beachings are a consequence of the nature of the bottom and coastline in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The large expanse of shallow water and the severity of the storm along PEI’s open coastline may have contributed to the depositing of lobsters on shore during the storm.

Much of the sea floor there consists of ledge and sand -– a bottom type that provides scant shelter for lobsters in rough weather. The exposed lobsters were most likely tumbled ashore by large storm-generated waves. It is possible that lobsters were carried from considerable distances to shore.

In response to queries about the stranding of egg-bearing female lobsters, Lanteigne said, “Although some have witnessed large quantities of egg-bearing females being washed ashore in localized areas, the overall assessment of the phenomenon has revealed that the full range of sizes and genders were found along the beaches. Differences in size composition or gender at the different sites were reflecting the highly variable particularities of the lobster population in the area.”

In other words, it seems that egg-bearing females were stranded as a coincidence of their presence rather than some propensity for greater vulnerability to being washed ashore during storms.

Special thanks to Marc Lanteigne and Doug Pezzack of DFO.

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