In an effort to give Long Island Sound's dwindling lobster population a chance to recover, for the first time the lobster season in Long Island Sound has closed for the fall.
The closure went into effect on Sunday, September 8, and will continue until November 28. It was required by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s American Lobster Fishery Management Plan, which was approved in November 2011.
The season closure applies to all Long Island Sound waters and affects both recreational and commercial fisheries and all gears. The stated aim of the season closure is "to reduce exploitation (the percentage of animals fishing takes from the population annually) by 10% starting January 1, 2013 to help rebuild the broad Southern New England lobster stock, including the local Long Island Sound component."
Waterford lobsterman Michael Theiler said that local lobstermen had a hand in making the decision.Other alternatives that have been tried before, such as enlarging the vent in the pots to let smaller lobsters escape or increasing the size for legal lobsters, he said, would have had a greater impact on the local lobster industry.
The lobstermen opted for a fall closure, he said, because the market for lobsters drops after Labor Day and lobsters go through their second shed in the fall, which lessens the quality of the lobsters.
"The lobstermen were part of the decision to close it," said Theiler. "It wasn’t something done unilaterally. The regulators and managers wanted to keep more lobsters in the waters. Lobster are not as abundant as they were in the '80s. They believe by keeping more lobsters in the water it will make a difference."
The notice posted on the CT DEEP Marine Fisheries Division website states: "The Commission took this action in response to the low level of abundance and persistent low production of young lobsters seen over the past decade across the entire New England stock complex (southern Massachusetts to Virginia, including offshore waters)."
Theiler, however, isn't convinced that closing the season will do much to help the lobster population bounce back.
"I think the issues that are plaguing lobster have a lot less to do with closing the season for a couple of months," he said. "I think we need to address water quality issues."
The bigger problems, Theiler said, are pollution and runoff of pesticides and herbicides into Long Island Sound and rising water temperatures.
"If lobsters can’t tolerate 70 degree water, they’re going to move off shore, and that’s what we’re seeing," he said.
Whether the lobsters will ultimately be able to thrive in Long Island Sound remains to be seen but, for now at least, Theiler thinks the lobstermen will be able to survive the closure.
"A lot of us had anticipated that this was coming and have either allocated this time to do maintenance on boats or to do something else," he said. "It’s the first year there has been a closure. We’ve been through a massive die off in '99, two hurricanes in the past two years, and countless management measures, and we’ve survived. Ultimately, we’ll survive this too."
To find out more about the specifics, email at email@example.com, by mail at P.O. Box 719, Old Lyme, CT 06371 or by telephone at 860.434.6043 between the hours of 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday.