Around the Island

Mashomack Musings: Losing Long Island lobsters

When most people think of lobster they envision Maine or Canada, but did you know lobsters used to be an important commercial fishery on Long Island?

Lobsters are large marine crustaceans and have long bodies with muscular tails. They tend to live in crevices or burrows on the sea floor. The familiar and tasty large-clawed American lobsters can be found in cold, rocky waters off the Atlantic coast. They feed primarily on fish and mollusks but will consume algae and other plant life.

Lobsters were once so abundant in the northeast that they were used as fertilizer and were considered garbage in the eyes of many. Eventually, the lobster’s reputation as a delicacy grew. It is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Unfortunately, populations of lobster are declining. In 1999 the Long Island Sound lobster fishery was hit hard with a lobster die-off and has never recovered.

All of lobsters’ life processes are linked to the conditions of the water. Warming temperatures, nitrogen pollution resulting in hypoxia, and “ghost fishing” have decimated the Long Island lobster population. Ghost fishing occurs when lost fishing gear still catches and kills lobsters. Hypoxia, low levels of oxygen in the water, is caused by blooms of algae from excess nitrogen from septic systems and fertilizers. As algae decomposes it removes oxygen, killing marine creatures unable to move to healthier waters.

Even in the colder waters of the Gulf of Maine and Canada, the populations have been declining. Lobsters are undergoing a geographic shift and are now thriving in Atlantic Canada. As waters continue to warm at unprecedented rates, the species will be pushed farther and farther north, until it can no longer move.

We must work to mitigate climate change in order to protect economically and environmentally important species, including our delicious lobster.