Climate Change Is Decimating Maine’s Lobster Population

Maine's lobsters are "likely" threatened.
Maine's lobsters are "likely" threatened. Photo: Daniel Grill/Tetra Images/Corbis

Seafood addicts don’t need yet another reason to loathe climate change, and now a pair of reports warn that saltwater diseases are just loving these warmer ocean temperatures, and unfortunately at least one has a taste for lobster. The new studies suggest sea stars have it the worst — they’re being plagued by a wasting disease that morphs them into “goo” within days — and divers in the San Juan Islands who used to find dozens on every dive now don’t see any. Lobsters, though, are apparently contracting a shell disease that gives them lesions and, at best, makes them unfit for eating.

The future isn’t rosy for either creature. Per the Washington Post:

The outbreaks are so lethal, according to a biologist involved in both studies, that at least one species of sea star has vanished off the coasts of Washington and British Columbia and the lobster fishery, already decimated in southern New England, will likely be threatened in Maine.

Scientists first observed the disease affecting lobsters in the ‘90s, off the Long Island Sound and elsewhere along the East Coast. It seems warmer waters hastened its spread, with females especially at risk because they molt more often and carry their shells longer. “Shell disease has devastated the southern New England lobster fishery, and now with warming, it’s led to a situation where the Maine lobster industry may be at risk,” one of the study’s co-authors warns. Scientists aren’t sure what actions to recommend taking, since about all they can do at this point is try not to make things worse, but they say they’ll reassess the situation in the spring. If it’s bad enough, don’t be surprised to see calls in New England to further curb water pollution, boat traffic, and other modes of transmission in affected areas.