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Maine’s Commercial Lobster Industry

Maine’s Commercial Lobster Industry

Summary

Scientists predict a major population crash of Maine lobsters in the near future, due to over-harvesting, increasing demand, and a lack of successful regulatory measures reflecting such factors. The attempt to introduce various policy measures creating more limited access to the resource has been largely ineffective due to the unique ecological, economic, and social characteristics of the state. Further complicating the issue is the matter of thriving lobster populations during recent years when other marine wildlife populations are experiencing severe losses along the same region of the eastern seaboard. This paper examines the conflict between lobster fishermen, scientists, and policy makers regarding attempts to work toward a more sustainable lobster fishing industry.

Introduction

The issue of Maine lobster fishing is an ideal case illustrating the challenge of the "tragedy of the commons", since the lobsters belong to no one until caught. They have been harvested commercially in New England (the "birthplace" of the nation’s fisheries) since the 1800’s. At that time, they "were so plentiful they could be caught by hand or, with less hazard (because the average lobster was so large), with a gaff, a pole with a large hook stuck in the end" (Formisano, 13).

Since the early 19th century, the industry adopted more efficient techniques (such as the use of lobster "pots", or traps, and boats that could carry lobsters over longer distances) to capture more lobsters faster. This led to a significant population decline by the late 1800’s, prompting the first lobster regulation (prohibiting the harvesting of egg-bearing females). Lobster populations remained relatively st...

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