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May 14, 2018

As Gulf of Maine warms, will black sea bass make up for declines in lobster?

Courtesy / Maine Department of Marine Resources

The Gulf of Maine’s warming waters could mean that new fisheries are coming to Maine.

The Bangor Daily News reported that many lobster fishermen, concerned about a possible drop-off in the lobster resource, are looking at other species like Jonah crab and black sea bass. In 2016, fishermen in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island together earned $2.38 million from their black sea bass fishery.

If Maine were to develop a black sea bass fishery, she said, fishermen could use techniques and equipment that are very similar to what they use now to catch lobster, which would help with the transition, Marissa McMahan, a senior fisheries scientist for the environmental science nonprofit Manomet, told the BDN.

In 2017, lobster landings declined 16% from 2016's 132.5 million landings. The drop in landings and value for Maine lobsters in 2017 wasn't unexpected. Lobster co-ops Downeast were reporting in late summer as much as a 25% to 30% drop in volume compared with 2016, with the price per pound also dropping by about 20% at that point in the season.

"The past year has underscored what I've been saying for years now – that change is inevitable and we must be prepared," DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a March news release announcing the 2017 landings.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates black sea bass, the species is highly sought by both commercial and recreational fishermen throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Since 2013, commercial landings have remained above 2.5 million pounds per year, and the resource is in good shape.

The distribution of black sea bass continues to expand northward into the Gulf of Maine.

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