Maine would not be affected, but that doesn’t make the proposed shutdown of southern New England’s lobster fishery any less alarming.

Among the remedies to revive what once was an active fishery is a five-year ban on catching lobsters in the region from Cape Cod to the coast of Virginia. That would put hundreds of fishermen out of work, and threaten the livelihood of the businesses that serve them.

Maine lobstermen don’t need to worry. The lobster populations in the Gulf of Maine are healthy and would not be affected by the ban. But the kind of drastic regulation measures so nearby should give lobstermen here a cause for concern.

The health of Maine’s lobster fishery is attributable to the care and restraint Maine lobstermen have used to manage their fishery.

Every lobster landed in Maine was caught in a trap, pulled by hand one trap at a time, the way it has been done for generations. That keeps the number of lobsters landed fairly stable and continues to provide work for lobstermen, even though the recession has put downward pressure on prices. In southern New England, where lobsters can be landed in nets, the catch has declined dramatically. The lobster population is about 15 million, down from more than twice that number a decade ago.

Fishing practices are not all that is at play here. Lobsters have been subject to disease, and some biologists blame warming ocean temperatures for killing lobsters or driving them into deeper water.

A ban on fishing will not affect either of those factors, but it’s clear that continued fishing under these circumstances doesn’t help. Regulators are looking at anything that would stop the decline.

“We may not be able to bring the stock back to the levels we saw in the late ’90s. That may have been the grand finale,” said Dan McKiernan, deputy director of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. “Then the question is, can you effectively recover the stock?”

This is more than a cyclical decline and will require a strong intervention. Maine lobstermen can only hope that the problem won’t spread here.


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