The Maine Department of Marine Resources is using $340,000 from the sale of specialty license plates to bankroll lobster research.

The state agency is using lobster license plate profits to fund six research projects, including five run by the University of Maine and one by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and give $5,000 mini-grants to four other researchers. Project data will be shared through a research collaborative created to address the impact of a changing ocean environment on Maine’s lobster industry.

“Maine’s lobster industry is our most valuable and is a critical piece of the economy of nearly every community along the coast,” Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “We know that change is happening in the Gulf of Maine and we want to be positioned with improved science to adapt to those changes.”

The agency in charge of regulating the state’s $1.5 billion industry is trying to up its own scientific efforts with these grants, which will be shared and shaped by a research collaborative made up of state officials, scientists and industry leaders. At the centerpiece of the new emphasis is research to support Maine’s most valuable fishery. The plan was to fund $500,000 in lobster science projects.

The department has hired a new senior lobster scientist to provide additional research capacity and complement the collaborative work. That is on top of the $700,000 it will spend in fiscal year 2019 to fund and staff its lobster monitoring programs, a $490,000 grant for the biannual lobster trawl survey, and a $700,000 federal lobster fishing gear study grant intended to help protect right whales.

UMaine marine science professor Yong Chen landed three grants for $190,000. With them, he will quantify the impacts of conservation management measures such as size limits and v-notching female lobsters, project climate-driven changes in lobster habitat, and assess the ability of state monitoring programs to document lobster habitat changes over time.

UMaine’s research professor Richard Wahle will receive $40,000 to evaluate the relationships between lobster larvae and zooplankton over time in the Gulf of Maine, while colleague Robert Steneck, a marine science professor, will receive $10,000 to look for a connection between lobster larvae settlement, kelp forests and the near-shore density of legal size and sublegal size lobsters.

The state will award $80,000 to Kathy Mills and Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to identify indicators that show how lobster habitat and the Gulf of Maine ecosystem are changing spatially and over time, and evaluate how the indicators may affect lobster populations.

The scientists who will receive $5,000 grants are Nick Record, senior research scientist with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; Jeff Runge, a UMaine oceanography professor and GMRI researcher; Eric Annis, a biology professor at Hood College in Maryland; and Damian Brady, a UMaine assistant research science professor.

“Each of these projects represents a significant contribution to the body of science that will inform the assessment and management of Maine’s most valuable fishery,” said Carl Wilson, director of the state agency’s science bureau.

The grant recipients were among 10 applicants that responded to a DMR request for lobster research proposals, said spokesman Jeff Nichols. After the grants are paid out, the lobster license plate fund will have $660,000 remaining in it.

In 2016, DMR awarded almost $300,000 in lobster-plate funded research grants to the University of Maine, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, Penobscot East Resource Center and Colby College. The grants funded study of how the changing ocean impacts lobster reproductive health and disease susceptibility, a leadership training program for lobstermen, a high school program for young lobstermen and an economic study of the lobster supply chain.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

[email protected]

This story was updated at 10 a.m. July 18 to include 2016 disbursements from the lobster plate revenues.

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