Just when the oceans seem to be emptying of everything except jellyfish and microbial goo, a surprising finding has emerged from the Gulf of Maine: over the last decade, lobster stocks have been booming. This formerly white-tablecloth food is now so abundant that even local convenience stores are installing lobster tanks. While the health of lobster stocks is in part due to the famously successful Maine lobster management plan, there’s other factors at work that might dampen your enthusiasm for these big red crustaceans.
First, cod has all but disappeared from an area that’s still nicknamed “Cape Cod” in honor of the fish. Cod, like other big fish that prey on lobsters, have gone “ecologically extinct” in New England. Thanks to overfishing, the cod population in the Northwest Atlantic is just 1% of what it was in 1977. In the absence of predators, lobsters are thriving.
A second factor helping out lobsters is, strangely enough, global warming. As the the oceans warm, lobsters are able to grow bigger and reproduce earlier. While ocean acidification will prove disastrous for corals and bivalves, it actually helps lobsters, crabs and shrimp to grow their shells more efficiently.
The dramatic oversupply of lobster is actually bad news for the lobstermen, whose business is suffering as wholesale prices plunge. There’s also an uneasy sense that the lobster boom is just a historical anomaly. To the south of Maine in Long Island Sound, the lobster catch skyrocketed in the 90s before plummeting, likely because the water grew too warm for lobsters to survive. Once the Gulf of Maine gets to hot for comfort, everyone’s favorite crustacean may go the way of the cod.
What will happen when all the lobsters are gone? Maybe we’ll grow them in a lab! Find out more by pre-ordering the In Vitro Meat Cookbook.