Sustaining a thriving lobster fishery through science and community.
York County Coast Star Thursday, May 22, 2003
Doing it all for the lobsters
By Jennifer Hagan, York County Coast Star Editor
BIDDEFORD - Volunteers for The Lobster Conservancy have a new definition of a nursery, now that they've started to help with research in a lobster nursery.
Volunteers for the Juvenile Lobster Monitoring Program will go to the lobster nursery monthly to count the number of juvenile lobsters and record some characteristics, according to Sara Ellis, executive director of The Lobster Conservancy.
Monday morning the sun radiated long-awaited warmth, probably making volunteers for the Juvenile Lobster Monitoring Program glad to be alive and out on the rocks. The volunteers will return to the nursery once per month into November, which means, unfortunately, they'll be out in much less pleasant weather.
The nursery is near the Goose Rocks Beach area, although Ellis requested that the exact location not be released to protect it.
Before the sampling starts, weather conditions are recorded, including air and water temperature. Volunteers then lay out a measuring tape and then, searching for lobsters, flip over every rock in a square meter area along that tape. According to Herb and Judy Cohen of Goose Rocks Beach, newly trained volunteers, for each lobster they measure the length and the length from the eye to the end of the carapace, inventory any injuries, and try to determine the sex of the lobster.
Ellis said the length from the eye to the end of the carapace is used to measure the legal length of the lobster and is much more reliable than total length because a lobster's movements can make measuring difficult. The nursery can contain newly hatched lobsters up to those about four to five years old. Ellis said it takes about seven to 10 years for a lobster to mature.
Judy Cohen said the couple volunteered because they thought the monitoring program sounded interesting. "That it's a nursery appealed to me--it's a wonderful word," she said, smiling.
"We're very much in favor of protecting the environment," Herb Cohen said.
"I think it's fascinating," said Judy Cohen, adding that she enjoyed that it was a scientific study. "It's serious science."
Ellis said the information can indicate trends in the lobster population that can be passed on to lobstermen. If it appears that the population may dip, perhaps meaning a less fruitful year, lobstermen can use that information when planning, she said.
"I only ever thought about it as a consumer," Herb Cohen said. "But the resource is pretty fragile. I think you've got to protect it."
"I think it's awesome," said Patrice Farrey, volunteer team leader and executive director of the Maine Lobstermen's Association, appreciating the scenery and good weather. Farrey said she liked that they were helping to build an index to inform lobstermen about the state of the population.
On Sunday, volunteers counted 25 lobsters in 15 meters, a count Ellis called "amazing." Volunteers at some other nurseries, such as one on Chebeague Island, may find only one or two per month, Ellis said.
The Lobster Conservancy monitors 25 nurseries in Maine as far north as Winter Harbor, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts with a total of 70 volunteers, although this is the only nursery in southern Maine. In addition to the new Biddeford location, Ellis said The Lobster Conservancy has also begun monitoring sites on Cranberry Island and in Cutler.
The Lobster Conservancy was founded by Diane Cowan in 1996 around the monitoring program, although has since expanded, Ellis said. Cowan monitors the Orr's Island nursery. Volunteers were phased into the program in 1995.
Ellis said at one time there was a nursery in York, but The Lobster Conservancy has been searching for several years to find another in southern Maine. This site was chosen for its protected harbor with a shallow slope. Another characteristic Ellis said she looked for was "rocks mere mortals can flip."
According to Ellis, sub-legal, or lobsters of smaller than legal size, are protected by law and should not be handled. The Lobster Conservancy can handle the lobsters due to a special research permit naming each volunteer, she said.
Jennifer Hagan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org