Expanding Knowledge of Lobster in Placentia Bay

This article was originally printed in the Winter 2020 edition of the Union Forum magazine, written by Dwan Street, FFAW-Unifor Project Coordinator.

As a component of DFO’s Coastal Environmental Baseline Program, FFAW members have been helping to expand the knowledge base on lobster in Placentia Bay. There have been significant concerns around the decline that has happened over the past few decades compared to increases in other regions. From 1992-2007 lobster landings in Placentia Bay declined by approximately 90%.

Phase I

Last year, FFAW completed phase I of the project, which consisted of a series of thorough, in-depth interviews with harvesters who had experience fishing lobster in the bay. Questions examined changes in lobster distribution, size, and abundance, as well as changes in environmental conditions from fish harvesters in Placentia Bay.

Fifteen fish harvesters were interviewed in February and March of 2019. Harvesters were selected based on their length of time in the fishery and location. Interviewed harvesters had a long history of fishing experience fishing lobster in Placentia Bay, with an average of 34 years lobster fishing experience (range 17 – 53 years). Harvesters also indicated changes in areas they have fished over the years, showing these areas on maps.

Harvesters agreed, for the most part, that catch rates had declined significantly, beginning between the early 1990s and early 2000s (range 1991-2006). Outer Placentia Bay was the exception, where declines in catch rates had not been so drastic but fluctuated over the years.

The invasion of green crab in the area has brought significant concerns as to the impact this species is having on lobster. All harvesters were well aware of how aggressive green crab can be on the lobster population and eel grass beds, which are important nursery areas for juvenile lobsters and other fish.

Since the early 2000s, harvesters have also noticed a decline in the number of undersized lobsters. Interestingly, nearly all harvesters said they have observed an increase in the number of egg-bearing females.

These latter observations helped shape the work for phase II, which aims to examine juvenile lobsters that are too small to catch with commercial lobster pots.

Phase II

To capture and record data on juvenile lobsters, work has been ongoing in the United States and up the eastern Canadian seaboard by Rick Wahle. This project is called the American Lobster Settlement Index. This year, Marine Institute agreed to begin doing similar sampling on the west coast and Fortune Bay that would add to the index. This provided a great opportunity for FFAW members to contribute the same type of data from Placentia Bay.

Juvenile lobsters are caught in settlement trays filled with cobble. The trays were deployed in August and retrieved in November. Locations were chosen based on areas most commonly fished, according to the harvesters in phase I. Trays were deployed in Lawn, Woody Island, Placentia and Merasheen.

Results from these trays will be available in the next edition of the Forum. We thank harvesters Kevin Parsons, Garry Hussey and Ken Viscount for their hard work contributing to this very important project, as well as FFAW Science technician Scott Smith.

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