The American lobster, Homarus americanus, is the single most important species to the fisheries of New England. For more than a century, efforts have been made to understand the factors that limit lobster abundance and thereby restrict recruitment to the fishery. In spite of the identification of postlarvae as the critical stage for lobster recruitment, measures of abundance (reported as mean number of individuals per meter squared) of the earliest juvenile stages (<10 mm CL) have appeared only over the past decade (Hudon 1987; Able et al. 1988; Heck et al. 1989; Wahle and Steneck 1991; Steneck and Wilson in prep.). Various methods have been used to quantify benthic abundance including visual surveys and airlift suction sampling (reviewed in Lawton and Lavalli 1995). The discovery of lobster nursery habitats in the lower intertidal zone has led to the design of a low-cost, long-term sampling program (Intertidal Lobster Monitoring Program) that may be used to study the settlement, abundance, and distribution of juvenile lobsters (Cowan 1999a, 1999b).
Penobscot Bay, Maine is one of the richest lobster grounds in the world. Factors controlling lobster recruitment and abundance are not fully understood, but it is believed that the high abundance in "Pen Bay" results from favorable environmental conditions for egg and larval survival and growth, which in turn lead to high settlement. There is growing consensus among scientists that initial recruitment in lobsters is closely related to abundance, delivery, and settlement of the last planktonic stage, called postlarvae. Annual delivery of postlarvae is likely affected by oceanographic currents (Incze et al. 1997).
Penobscot Bay provides an excellent laboratory for understanding how circulation, temperature patterns, wind forcing and geology regulate distribution and abundance of lobsters in coastal Maine waters. It is hypothesized that the Eastern Maine Coastal Current delivers postlarvae to Pen Bay by in late summer or early fall, when the current turns toward the mouth of the bay (Incze 1998).
The Penobscot Bay Lobster Collaborative is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency research program being coordinated by the Island Institute as a component of the 5-year Penobscot Bay Project. The lobster collaborative brings together lobster biologists, oceanographers, and managers to study the principal factors and mechanisms underlying population fluctuations of lobsters.
In 1998, The Lobster Conservancy was invited to join the Penobscot Bay Lobster Collaborative, to establish its volunteer-based Intertidal Lobster Monitoring Program (ILMP) within Pen Bay. The Lobster Conservancy already had volunteers monitoring lobsters at Lowell's Cove, Maine, 8 other sites in Harpswell, ME and 1 site in New Hampshire (Cowan 1999a; Ellis and Cowan 1999a, 1999b). The main goal of the Pen Bay ILMP was to document patterns of abundance and distribution of juvenile lobsters around the bay, and to relate these patterns to oceanographic factors.
A secondary goal was to provide a strong educational outreach component to the lobster collaborative by involving volunteers from local communities. The ILMP uses standard, well-accepted ecological procedures to quantify general population dynamics of the American lobster. It also uses inexpensive, accessible, and readily available tools and techniques. Just about anyone with the time and inclination can participate in this program, thus it is perfectly suited for volunteers. Involving volunteers of different age groups and backgrounds aids in bringing communities together and provides public access to scientific research and knowledge.