URI teams with fishermen to protect and study lobsters

KINGSTON, R.I. — December 8, 2000 — University of Rhode Island researchers are teaming with members of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association to conduct scientific studies on lobsters in an effort to better understand lobster biology and ensure that harvest levels are sustainable. According to URI researcher Kathleen Castro, three separate collaborative studies are under way to assess the growth rates, egg production, movement and survival of lobsters in Narragansett Bay and offshore. Funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the first study aims to learn more about the biological characteristics of the state’s lobster population. Fifteen lobstermen are voluntarily capturing, tagging and releasing thousands of lobsters in the Bay and Rhode Island Sound. When those lobsters are later recaptured by any of the state’s commercial lobstermen, they will turn a wide variety of data over to Castro. In return, the lobstermen will receive information back from Castro about that lobster. In cooperation with NMFS and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, a similar effort has been proceeding to study lobsters that were released during the summer of 2000 as a result of the North Cape oil spill. More than 300,000 female lobsters were released in Rhode Island waters last summer to make up for those killed by the 1996 oil spill. “Each of the released lobsters has a V-notch in their tail to identify them as part of the North Cape program,” explained Castro. “The lobstermen are tagging them so when they are recaptured we can better understand how much they move around and to assess their survival rates and egg production.” The third study is an evaluation of the impact of shell disease on Rhode Island lobsters. By studying caged lobsters in upper Narragansett Bay and offshore, the project will determine what happens to lobsters with diseased shells. “Do they die? Do they survive? Do they get rid of it when they molt their shell? If so, does it come back and how quickly?” Castro said cooperative efforts between fishermen, researchers and regulators are uncommon, particularly when the only incentive is better information for managing lobster stocks. She said that Rhode Island is very progressive in its management of the state’s lobster population, and that is due in large part to the efforts of the fishermen themselves. “Fishermen who are involved in the research and management of the resource make informed decisions. They are willing to make the right choices to ensure the sustainability of the fishery.” For Information: Kathleen Castro 874-5063, Todd McLeish 874-7892