August 15, 2013

Lobstermen keeping eyes on spread of shell disease

The number of afflicted lobsters is still low here, but a state biologist says there is cause to be concerned.

The Associated Press

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A photo provided by the University of Rhode Island in North Kingstown, R.I., shows a lobster with a diseased shell. The disease that has plagued the southern New England lobster industry now is becoming more prevalent in Maine.

The Associated Press

From 2008 to 2010, observers found about one diseased lobster for every 2,000 sampled in Maine. In 2011, that rate rose to four diseased lobsters in 2,000, and in 2012, it rose to six.

It's not a large number, but it's high enough to get lobstermen's attention.

"From talking to fishermen from Massachusetts on up, it seems like each year it's moving its way north a little bit," said South Bristol lobsterman Arnold Gamage Jr., who's been fishing all his life.

Still, he tries to keep it in perspective.

"If we go all day long and I see a few that have shell disease, I think to myself, 'That's a lot,'" Gamage said. "And I suppose it is a lot compared to none. But it's still a very small number; it's way less than 1 percent."

Given the sudden increase in shell disease over a short period in southern New England, Maine's lobstermen, scientists and regulators have good reason to be worried, said Jeffrey Shields, a marine science professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

His advice: "Keep an eye on it. Keep monitoring it. Lobby federal and state agencies to fund research to understand more about it."

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