By Dave Stewart
A PEI crustacean pathologist says water temperature problems that plagued the industry in Maine haven’t been felt locally, at least not yet.
Andrea Battison co-chaired a recent symposium in Portland that focused on issues such as warming ocean temperatures, the changing food web and seafood economics.
About 150 people registered, including scientists from Canada, the United States and Europe for the conference.
One of the big issues the conference tackled was fundamental changes that affected lobsters in recent years as a summer that featured a potentially record-breaking haul in Maine and Canada and a crash in wholesale prices.
“Lobsters don’t really like the water to be too warm so they’ll move away,’’ Battison said. “Warmer temperatures can also promote other diseases.’’
She said warmer water temperatures haven’t been a problem on PEI just yet.
“Not saying it couldn’t happen. Just being aware of what happened in another area where they’ve seen warmer water . . . it’s good to be aware of what’s going on.’’
The southern New England fishery has virtually collapsed and that could have a profound effect on the lobster population.
“Lobsters have the potential to be a sort of poster child for climate change impact and the impacts of human activity,’’ said Rick Wahle, a University of Maine research professor.
Lobsters are caught basically from Virginia to Newfoundland and Labrador, with Maine and Nova Scotia having the largest harvests. In Maine, last year’s catch topped 100 million pounds for the first time and this year’s haul is expected to be even higher.
Warm ocean waters are being blamed for lobsters shedding their shells weeks earlier than usual in Maine waters last spring. That led to a strong early harvest that created havoc within the industry, caused prices to plummet and made tensions boil over between Maine and Canadian lobster fishermen after Canadians blockaded plants that were processing Maine- caught lobsters.
An oversupply of those lobsters looking for a home had PEI fishermen concerned about marketplace flooding.
Battison said warm waters are causing lobsters to move into areas they are not normally found.
“You’re finding them on muddy bottoms, which is unusual for them. Warming water temperatures are certainly going to affect populations. The populations are shifting.’’
Wahle said it’s important to get an idea of what might happen with the lobster population in future years, a fact that becomes increasingly important on PEI where so many coastal communities rely on lobster for their livelihoods.