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Baby lobsters love Marblehead

By Bette Keva
Marblehead Reporter
September 23, 2004

Marblehead is known for many things, but not generally for its abundance of lobsters the size of a thumbnail. But that is a distinction it holds among scientists and volunteers of The Lobster Conservancy of Friendship, Maine whose volunteers gather data on juvenile lobsters from April through November.

While most of the teams monitoring 28 sites along the coastlines of Mass., Maine, and New Hampshire found no baby lobsters in April, Marblehead’s volunteers including Jack Arnold, Rod Thibodeau, Gene Cornfield, Erin Webber, and Denise Fiore found seven of them ranging from 9 to 41 mm CL (carapace length), according to The Lobster Conservancy’s September newsletter.

The overall length of the lobster is about three times the carapace length, explained Jack Arnold who was attracted to the group several years ago when he saw from the window of his Fountain Inn home volunteers in boots and with measuring tools slogging out to Little Harbor.

But April’s abundance of lobster sightings here was only the beginning.

In June, Gerry Island (Marblehead) recorded the highest lobster count with 46 lobsters measuring from 9mm to 45mm CL, followed closely by Fort Stark with 40 lobsters, Pratt Island 35, and Plum Cove 31, according the newsletter.

In August, volunteers on Pratt Island found the most juvenile lobsters, 56. Marblehead came in second with 43 lobsters.
Jack Arnold believes Marblehead is productive because the sea floor is so rocky, and that is where the juveniles instinctively hide as they grow and gain strength. In addition, the gulf of Maine currents circulate counter-clockwise, so when the lobster larvae float close to the top of the surface, they go where the currents take them.

“We’re, perhaps, in a fortuitous location as far as the currents go. We get lobster larvae brought here by the currents, bringing us large numbers of juveniles. Any site will fluctuate from year to year. The fluctuation may have little to do with the number of lobsters caught or the number of breeding lobsters. [The reason] may be as simple as a change in the currents,” explained Arnold.

Arnold credits “the wisdom of the lobstermen” with setting minimum and maximum standards to sustain the fishery.

“Lobstermen notch the tails of females they find as a preservation procedure. The more you allow a female to mature, the more likely they will survive.” Younger females produce 5,000 eggs as opposed to the older females, 10 to 20 years old, who produce 50,000 to 100,000 eggs. If these females are taken out of the population before they breed, “there will be little egg production close to shore. So that’s an argument for saying, perhaps, we should consider raising the minimum size of lobsters that are legal,” said Arnold.

For their hard work in donning boots, heavy gloves, head lamps, measuring tools and heading out into the foggy air to gather data on the health, habits, and productivity of the babies each month, Arnold, Thibodeau and Fiore traveled to Friendship Long Island, Maine for Volunteer Appreciation Day at the Lobster Conservancy. They toured the facilities, dined on lobster, of course, and received an autographed copy of the recently published book, “The Secret Life of Lobsters,” by Trevor Corson.

The Marblehead group is among 90 volunteers along the Gulf of Maine coast to gather data. It has been done here since only since 2000 and was the southernmost site and relatively new until another at Green Harbor, Mass., was added. In Maine, where there are 23 sites—the northernmost being Great Wass Island off Jonesport, Maine—monitoring began 12 years ago.

The next time the Marblehead volunteers monitor the juveniles will be on October 16 at 7 p.m., during the lowest of low tides. They will be equipped with head lamps and will be looking in the same spot as they always do for critters measuring less than an inch to a couple of inches. They will also determine the lobsters sex . . . in the dark.

Volunteers are always needed, said Arnold. If interested, call Rod Thibodeau at 631-3184.

Lobster Larvae in the Classroom
Marblehead being such a productive breeding ground for juvenile lobsters, its elementary school teachers looking for a science project might consider what the Maine’s Friendship Village School has done.

Grade 6 students there have become the first graduating class of the Lobster Larvae in the Classroom program, according to The Lobster Conservancy Web site,

Students in the town where The Lobster Conservancy is located have participated in the project for the past two years ago. They began in the 4th grade by learning basic lobster biology and practicing their scientific observation skills. They learned more about the lobster life cycle and marine ecology, and became skilled lobster larvae aqua-culturists in the 5th grade. When they reached 6th grade, they became researchers and teachers, sharing their own lobster-related projects with younger children at Friendship and Warren, Maine schools.

A graduation ceremony was held in a science classroom on the last day of the project, complete with diplomas and Pomp and Circumstance played by a band with imaginary instruments.


©2003 The Lobster Conservancy.
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