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Conservation and Preservation

Debates about the conservation of the lobster stocks have been going on throughout the 20th century.  H.E. Baker’s reply to an article published in the Morning Chronicle on August 6, 1918 closed with a poem that he had written concerning the abundance of lobster on the East coast.  Here are the first two verses of his poem: 

Let the lawmakers rave-

While the broad seas wave;

And the billows roll high and free

The lobsters will breed

‘Neath the slat sea-weed,

In their dugouts down under the sea,

And although the selfish man

Will can all that he can

And continue to catch big and small,

In the long run he’ll find

There’s enough left behind

To prevent him from canning them all.


From Cape North to Maine

Though Millions be slain,

There’s really no reason for dread

So shake those glum looks

Get your pots and your hooks

And we’ll go fishing instead,

(Some of us, at least, who are here,

Would like to go fishing next year,

But if this can’t be,

And there’s no fishing?  Gee!

The thought if it makes one feel queer.)

Although not everyone in the early 20th century felt the way H.E.Baker did, many people did believe that the lobster stock would never be in jeopardy.  However, over the decades some of these attitudes changed.  People began to realize that stricter regulations would have to be in place to protect the dwindling lobster population.

Over the last twenty years the scientific community and the managers of the fishery have raised some major issues concerning the lobster fishery and its survival. These concerns, although being voiced for many years, have just recently been heard and acted upon.  In 1995, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC) presented its report entitled “A Conservation Framework for Atlantic Lobster” which concluded that lobster fishermen were “taking too much and leaving too little”.  Not only was the present fishery operating at high exploitation rates, but it was also harvesting too many immature lobsters which was resulting in inadequate egg production.  In the conservation framework recommended by the FRCC to alleviate these problems an increase in egg production topped their list of solutions.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans minister responded to this report by introducing new measures to double the egg production in the Southern Gulf.  The measures that were implemented were adapted for each of the five LFAs so that the target result of doubling the egg production could be achieved in all five areas within a four-year span, beginning in 1998 and fishing in 2001.  Egg production per recruit is referred to as E/R, and is a method for estimating the reproductive capacity of a population.  It is an estimate of the number of eggs that the average female lobster entering the fishery (recruit) would produce over her life time (Lobster Biology and Fishery in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, 1999).

One of the measures that was initiated as part of this plan was increasing the minimum carapace size.  The carapace is the name given to the hard shell covering the body of the lobster.  Fishermen must measure the lobster’s carapace to see if it is of legal size.  If it is not, it must be thrown back in the ocean. In all five LFAs, the minimum carapace size has been increasing since 1998 and will eventually reach 67.5mm when the plan is completed in 2000. Although the increases seem small, for example 65.9 to 67.5mm, the effect that it produces is great.  Larger carapace sizes allow a greater number of female lobsters to reach sexual maturity and reproduce before they are harvested.  In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, female lobsters become sexually mature after 5 or 6 years of growth.  At this time the size at which 50% of the female lobsters reach maturity is between 70 and 73mm.  By increasing the minimum size of the carapace it will allow more females to remain on the bottom where they will be able to reproduce.

Besides increasing the carapace size, v-notching has also been introduced as a means of increasing egg production.  Although v-notching is a voluntary measure, many fishermen in the southern Gulf are implementing it, and it may indeed be mandatory in the near future. When a fisherman catches a female lobster carrying eggs he cuts a little V in part of her tail, marking the lobster as a capable egg producer.  If another fisherman comes along and catches this female later he must throw her back in, even if she isn’t carrying any eggs.  Although the V-notch will disappear when the female molts it is quite possible that it will protect the female up until she breeds again.

Other regulations and policies in place to help stabilize the fishery include limits on traps sizes, the number of traps each fisherman can set, the months that lobsters can be fished and the number of licenses available.  In the southern Gulf the majority of LFAs do not fish for lobster in the months of July and August because this is the time of year when lobsters are molting and are soft shelled and also because this is when the females are laying their eggs. Lobster licenses can only be bought from a fisherman who has one and is selling it.  Today a lobster license may cost anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000. (This includes the license, the boat and the gear).

It is conservation measures such as these that will help protect this socially and economically important industry. The people on the north shore who depend on the lobster fishery for their livelihood do not want to see it go the way of the Newfoundland cod fishery.  When it collapsed in the late 1980s, it left thousands jobless and distressed. The fishermen, scientists, and government officials of the southern Gulf region are working together to make sure that regulations are understood and followed so the risk of a collapse will be reduced.  Although these tight regulations may not make the good times much better they will definitely make the hard times a lot less severe, and hopefully in the long run everyone will benefit.

For more information concerning these topics call or write the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  Visit their website at  


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