No new rules for declining southern New England lobstering

An interstate panel that manages fisheries voted on Tuesday against a plan to try to preserve the declining southern New England lobster population with new fishing restrictions.

The New England lobster fishery is based largely in Maine, where the catch has soared to new heights in recent years. But the population has collapsed off Connecticut, Rhode Island, southern Massachusetts and New York's Long Island as waters have warmed in those areas.

An arm of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission considered a host of new restrictions about lobster fishing in southern New England on Tuesday and chose to shoot the plan down.

Restrictions could have included changes to legal harvesting size, reductions in the number of traps fishermen can use and closures to areas where lobsters are harvested. But members of the commission's lobster board said they feared the proposed restrictions wouldn't do enough to stem the loss of lobsters.

Board members agreed to try to figure out a new strategy to try to help the crustaceans, which have risen in value in recent years as Asian markets have opened up.

"It's time to think a little differently about how we are managing lobsters in southern New England," board member Peter Burns said. "We know there are things we can do,"

The commission decided in May that it wanted to boost egg production by reducing the lobster harvest. That idea has generated some criticism from fishermen who feel they shouldn't be penalized for environmental changes that are harming the crustaceans.

But members of the commission's American lobster board said new conservation measures are still needed to preserve the stock for the long term.

The commercial catch of lobsters brought to the docks in Connecticut has fallen from more than 2.5 million pounds in 1995 to about 200,000 pounds in 2015. New York's catch is also essentially gone. In Rhode Island, the catch fell from more than 5 million pounds in 1995 to less than 2.4 million pounds in 2015.

The catch in Maine has boomed from about 37 million pounds in 1995 to more than 122 million pounds in 2015. The changes have prompted some scientists to suggest the lobsters' population center is shifting northward with temperature rise.

Lobsters remain readily available to consumers because of the high catch off Maine and Canada.