UMM Professor Makes Lobster Aquaculture Breakthrough
The June 4th issue of the Bangor Daily News
featured an article on Dr. Brian Beal, professor of marine ecology, and his research at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research. Beal and his staff have been working to reproduce lobsters in captivity for several years and have now found a way to grow the crustaceans in a protected environment until they are several inches long — a size that may greatly improve their chance of survival once released in the wild. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Shellfish Research.
GREAT WASS ISLAND, Maine — Though there is no shortage of lobsters in the Gulf of Maine, some scientists and lobster fishery officials have been trying to learn how to reproduce the crustaceans in captivity.
As other commercial fisheries in Maine have dwindled or nearly vanished, the amount of lobster caught in the gulf each year has shot up dramatically over the past two decades. Last year, for the first time ever, more than 100 million pounds of lobster were brought ashore by Maine fishermen, who earned an estimated total of more than $330 million for their catch.
But as the lobster industry has come to dominate commercial fishing in the state, some scientists have expressed concern about what might happen to Maine’s coastal economy if the gulf’s lobster population were to collapse. As a precautionary measure, some fishermen, scientists and industry officials have tried hatching millions of tiny juvenile lobsters and then letting them loose in the ocean.
But according to Brian Beal, there have been some serious scientific shortcomings to those efforts. Producing millions of tiny lobsters, each as long as a dime is wide, and setting them afloat in the gulf is well and good, but what happens to them after that? Have any of them ever grown big enough to be legally sold in Maine? Do they ever settle to the bottom? Are they all eaten by fish as they swim around in the water column?
In short, is there any indication that hatching millions of tiny lobsters and dumping them in the gulf does any good? Beal, a University of Maine at Machias professor and director of research at Downeast Institute, says officials just don’t know.
But Beal says he has come up with a better way to grow lobsters in captivity. Through trial and error over several years, he has learned how to grow lobsters in a protected environment until they are several inches long — not big enough to be sold, but big enough to settle to the bottom when they are released and possibly to improve their survival rate.