As fears grow around the world that falling stocks are threatening marine catches, there remains one success story. Lobster fishing off the coast of Maine, USA, recorded bumper levels this year, and while no-one knows exactly why, an article in the New York Times points out that the industry has a few secrets that others could learn from. 

Biologists and fishermen agree that the catch will drop again at some point, but so far the record numbers of lobsters in the sea are continuing. Last year, fishermen landed an enormous 56.7m pounds, a figure around 20m pounds above the 100-year average.

Bob Steneck, marine sciences professor at the University of Maine, told the newspaper: “The lobster is perhaps one of the only species that’s been intensively fished for 150 years and is doing better today than ever.” He believes that the abundance of lobster can be put down to the fact that over the last two decades, “the entire western North Atlantic underwent some change in oceanography that influenced, probably, the delivery of the lobster larvae to their nursery habitat.”

The fishermen themselves are more practical, maintaining that the widespread practice of responsible, sustainable farming is the predominant guarantor of abundant stocks. Practically every one of the 6,000 lobstermen in Maine harvest only one out of every eight-to-ten lobsters caught in the pots. They also protect the female eggers, who emerge from the water with masses of roe eggs, and add v-shaped notches to the tails of those which are too small, or too big, to be caught  – marks that act as a protective signifier to other fishermen.

The widespread practice that demands forming apprenticeships with local fishermen also perpetuates good habits. And by state law, the lobstermen are only allowed 800 traps each, and they must not work on Sundays during the summer.

Carl J. Wilson, Maine’s chief lobster biologist, explained to The New York Times: “There are a lot of theories out there and the reality is that we don’t know what it is [causing the boom.. it’s] a scientific mystery.”