Connecticut lobster population falls to record low amid rising sea temperatures

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STONINGTON-- The lobster population has crashed to its lowest level on record in Southern New England, according to a recent report by regulators.

Scientists say one of the chief reasons for the northward shift is that the ocean is getting warmer.

The trend is driving lobstermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island out of business, and some regulators say there’s not much they can do about the problem because it’s largely environmental.

Michael Grimshaw has made a career out of being a lobster fisherman.

Grimshaw is the president of  the Southern New England Fishermen and Lobstermen’s Association, and lobsterfisherman in Stonington.

"I'm like the last of the buffalo hunters you know, there's no more buffalo, so there's no more buffalo hunters, so basically there's no lobster, so they'll be no more lobstermen," said Grimshaw.

Grimshaw says he's experienced the decline in the lobster industry over the past decade.  He says his yearly income has dropped 80 percent from a decade ago.

"Fishing six to seven days sometimes a week  would equate to half or even a slow day back in the heyday," said Grimshaw.

Restaurant diners, supermarket shoppers and summer vacationers aren't seeing much difference in price or availability, since the overall supply of lobsters is pretty much steady.

But because of the importance of lobsters to New England's economy, history and identity, the northward shift stands as an example of how climate change may be altering the natural environment of many animals and plants.
The lobster catch in Connecticut sank to about 150,000 pounds in 2015, from a peak of about 3.7 million in 1998-- a 95 percent decrease, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which annually measures the number of pounds of lobsters harvested in the state.

The declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions, including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years.

David Sampson, DEEP's Marine Fishery director, says lobsters aren't able to acclimate to the rising sea temperatures, which have reached 68 degrees. The number of days above 68 degrees has been greater than normal nearly every year since 1998, which is when the lobster population started to decline rapidly,  Sampson said.

Sampson says the average temperature on Long Island Sound in Connecticut is three degrees warmer on average since 2000.

"Warm water temperatures constantly too warm for lobster's health," said Sampson.

Other factors include an uptick in the number of predators that feed on lobsters.

Sampson expects the lobster population to continue to decrease over time.