Maine’s lobstering communities are under pressure.

In 2021, Maine’s lobster fishery supported nearly 18,000 jobs producing $725 million in revenue. In 2022, however, the value of the fishery dropped to $388 million– a dramatic decline of $358 million that shows the volatility of an industry that is the lifeblood of Maine’s island and coastal communities. Although there are many underlying causes for this single-year decline, there are three key challenges threatening the future of this essential industry: climate change, regulations aimed at preserving the endangered right whale, and increasing costs of doing business.

Learn more below about these pressures facing lobstering communities, and how Island Institute is working to ensure Maine’s island and coastal communities continue to thrive.

  • CLIMATE CHANGE
    The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most water bodies on the planet. 2021 was the hottest year on record in the Gulf of Maine, and lobsters are shifting to the north and east as temperatures rise.
  • UPCOMING RIGHT WHALE REGULATIONS
    The endangered North Atlantic right whale is also being negatively impacted by climate change. Whales are more vulnerable to ship strikes and entanglements because they are showing up in new areas in search of food. As a result, the National Marine Fisheries Service moved to accelerate the implementation of regulations protecting the whales as required under the Endangered Species Act.

These proposed regulations would include additional limits to when, where, and how lobstermen can fish, all of which would drastically change the fishery and the communities who depend on it.

Recently, legislation advanced by Maine’s state and federal officials delayed implementation of these regulations until 2028 which allows more time for improved data to be collected to inform management models and innovations in more whale-friendly gear to be field tested.

The Future of Lobster: Part 1
Hear from Island Institute’s Senior Ocean Scientist, Susie Arnold, Ph.D., as she answers commonly asked questions about the right whale issue.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3!

  • ECONOMIC PRESSURES
    The price of bait and fuel have been going up while the price of lobster falls. These economic shifts, combined with climate and regulatory uncertainty, mean it will be harder than ever for Maine’s lobstering communities to make ends meet.

Maine’s island and coastal towns most reliant on lobster

The population of these towns tends to be smaller, lower income, older and less diversified in the workforce than comparable coastal towns– illustrating the vulnerability to economic shocks that communities with a high reliance on lobstering face.

Lobstering plays an essential role in these communities and changes in the fishery will impact the broader communities as well.
.

Island Institute is meeting these challenges head-on.

In response to shifting regulations and in preparation for more drastic changes in the lobster industry, Island Institute is collaborating with scientific research partners, policymakers, economic development organizations, community leaders, and lobster industry experts to address the challenge.

Learn more below about the key elements of Island Institute’s near-term response.

  • DIVERSIFYING CAREER PATHS
    Changes in the industry suggest the need for new skills and the expansion of new opportunities along the coast. Through our Compass Workforce Grant program, we help those in the lobstering industry learn new skills for a changing world.
Compass recipient Emma Fernald prepares aquaculture gear purchased through the program.
  • TRANSLATING CLIMATE SCIENCE FOR COMMUNITIES
    Island Institute sits at the nexus of science, policy, and communities. As such, our efforts to explain ocean and climate science to communities and policymakers is essential in helping them prepare for change. One example is a column we published in the Working Waterfront newspaper explaining how warming waters in the Gulf of Maine have disrupted the food chain that serves North Atlantic right whales.
  • EXPANDING OUR DIRECT BUSINESS SUPPORT EFFORTS IN THESE VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES
    We are developing programs to help lobstermen understand their financial risk as well as opportunities to diversify their businesses. We are also supporting small businesses in coastal communities that—while not directly in the lobster fishery— will face challenges as the lobster industry evolves.
  • EXPANDING ACCESS TO CAPITAL AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE
    By providing grants for the purchasing of equipment or facility improvements, as well as offering training and technical assistance to help businesses grow, we help create greater business and community resiliency.
  • ADVOCATING FOR POLICIES THAT SUPPORT A SUSTAINABLE WORKING WATERFRONT
    Island Institute is advocating for policies at the local and state level that support the long-term sustainability of Maine’s working waterfront. One such an initiative is supporting LD 574— Maine state legislation that would allow land trusts to hold working waterfront covenants and would provide needed agility and funding to protect the last 20 miles of working waterfront in Maine.
  • ENGAGING AND EDUCATING THE PUBLIC
    Island Institute engages and educates the public by organizing events, educational programs, and producing a variety of publications that seek to increase awareness around critical issues facing Maine’s island and coastal communities.
A presenter shares their work with attendees during Island Institute’s Climate Symposium.

Let's stand behind Maine's lobstering communities

Join us in our work supporting Maine’s lobster fishery and the island and coastal communities who depend on it.