New England Lobster Research Initiative awards $2.3 million in research and monitoring grants

NARRAGANSETT—The New England Lobster Research Initiative has pulled together some of the most prominent lobster researchers in the country to address lobster shell disease.

Shell disease disfigures shells, prompts egg-bearing lobsters to molt prematurely, and can make it difficult for lobsters to shed their shells. The Initiative, funded with a Congressional appropriation obtained through the efforts of Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), has allocated $2.3 million for nine research and two monitoring projects that will examine lobsters and their habitats to determine how the disease affects lobsters and what makes them susceptible to it. The Initiative’s executive committee chairwoman said the projects will enhance scientists’ fundamental understanding of lobster biology and disease and provide insights for fishery managers to improve the health of New England’s most valuable catch.

“These researchers are using cutting-edge technologies to identify the pathogen that causes shell disease; to determine how external stressors, such as increasing water temperature or environmental contaminants, affect lobsters; to see how the disease damages the lobster’s shell; and to develop a rapid screening technique to see if a lobster has the disease,” said Kathleen Castro, Rhode Island Sea Grant Sustainable Fisheries Extension leader and chair of the Initiative’s executive committee.

“We’ve got to protect our lobster fisheries,” said Sen. Reed. “This is a major environmental concern, but it is also an important economic concern. The lobster industry is important to Rhode Island and New England and is a crucial link to our regional history and culture. I hope these research teams can identify and mitigate the problem.”

“Industry, researchers, and fishery managers will hopefully understand more about the origin of shell disease and then be able to inform others to help minimize any impacts on the lobster fishery, therefore optimizing the industry’s health far into the future,” said Elizabeth Kordowski, executive director of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association.

For more information on the funded proposals, see below, or visit the New England Lobster Research Initiative website:

New England Lobster Research Initiative Funded Proposals:

  • Two state surveys, one in Rhode Island and one in Maine, were funded to monitor lobsters to see if small lobsters are also affected by the disease. Working with fishermen and using ventless traps, which, unlike traditional traps, will prevent sub-legal lobsters from escaping, state fishery managers will be able to provide real-time data to researchers in a project requested by lobster fishermen.
  • Three groups will use different techniques and approaches to look at the microbiology on lobster shells to identify the pathogen causing shell disease, and whether or not affected lobsters have suppressed immune systems.
  • One project will seek to determine whether different lobster populations have different susceptibility to the disease, and whether or not there is a relationship between that susceptibility and genetic and/or behavioral differences between the populations.
  • Four projects will examine how environmental stressors—such as increasing water temperature or environmental contaminants—affect lobsters, whether through interfering with shell formation or hardening or impacting lobster genetic expression.
  • One project will use new techniques to compare shells of healthy and sick lobsters to see what is changing in the shells of lobsters with the disease.

Rhode Island Sea Grant is located at the University of Rhode Island and is part of NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program, which promotes the conservation and sustainable development of marine resources for the public benefit.