Lobster fishermen in Maine are on a roll, but this crustacean proliferation has coincided with a 99% drop in cod landings. Since the early 1990s, record lobster harvests have been occurring despite decades of exploitation. Scientists point to regulations on lobster size as one of the main reasons for the record numbers. This sounds like a sustainability success story, right? Maybe not.
Warming ocean temperatures have also contributed to the lobster proliferation. In fact, our northern neighbor, Canada is experiencing record harvests like that of Maine. Climate change may be the obvious answer, but scientists believe there is something else at work here. Cod are the main predator of juvenile lobsters. Without natural predators, the lobster population has boomed. A century of overfishing has been blamed for the decrease in cod. In November of 2014, NOAA shut down all recreational and commercial cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine.
This relationship between lobsters and cod is a perfect example of the interconnectedness of our oceans. We can’t affect one aspect without affecting another. And besides being an environmental issue, this is also an economic issue. Lobster fishermen may be enjoying record catches now but this begs the question: when is it going to come to an end?
In an article in Quartz, Gwen Guilford gave this warning:
Two decades of lobster abundance isn’t thanks to human mastery of “sustainability.” The ecosystem extremes that seem likely to have produced it — how we’ve pulled apart the food web, heated up the sea, re-rigged the lobster population structure — are volatile. Inevitably, nature warps again.
So until nature warps again, pull out the steam pot, melt some butter, and get to cracking.