New England lobster traps are nabbing dinner, data

March 23, 2009 By JAY LINDSAY , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Skip Ryan has worked the same channel into Boston Harbor for 50 years, setting and hauling his lobster traps so often that he is certain of one thing.

"You just cannot figure these animals out," Ryan says. "They're not predictable."

To help science try to solve that riddle and others, Ryan and several other lobstermen have allowed the to tag their traps with devices that measure temperature and currents.

The project is known as eMOLT - short for Environmental Monitors on and a play on the molting lobsters do when they shed their shells to grow. It has collected several years of data that are being prepped for use in an ambitious project linking ocean monitoring systems nationwide. The national project, called the Integrated Ocean Observing Systems, received $27.5 million more in funding from Congress earlier this month.

The eMOLT project's leader, NOAA oceanographer Jim Manning, says the readings could help foresee the strength of toxic red tides, determine prime spots for tidal and spot any climate change consequences.

Lobstermen hope the project can boost business by linking expected to their catch.

"If you know you've got a couple of bad years coming, you're not going to buy a new boat," said Jason Day, a Vinalhaven, Maine, lobsterman.

Manning first approached lobstermen in the mid-1990s after a stint on the midnight watch of a federal research vessel. While aboard, he saw boats plying the water hundreds of miles offshore and came to realize each of the several million traps in the water could be used to gather valuable data.

He found New England lobsterman eager to help.

About 60 lobstermen with about 80 among them have provided data since 2000 at a bargain price. The lobster trap temperature probes cost $150 each and collect information all year. More sophisticated data-gathering moorings cost $100,000 a year, and research boats cost about $12,000 a day for periodic sampling, Manning said.

The lobstermen, who aren't paid for the data-gathering, are asked to attach the probes at the start of the year, then turn them in at the end. Manning downloads the information and feeds it into the growing database.

Water temperature can tell a lot about the lobster catch because the animals tend to crawl around more - and find their way into traps - when the temperature is warmer or changes quickly.

The project also measures the currents that sometimes carry the eggs and larvae that lobsters release in midsummer to prime nursery grounds. If, for instance, climate change causes more Canadian ice to melt, more of that lighter fresh water could flow into the Gulf of Maine and alter currents.

Besides the devices attached to traps, the project tracks currents with floating "drifter" devices. The floating probes carry a GPS chip, are tossed into the sea and are collected later by lobstermen.

It will take years for data to reveal meaningful trends on complex issues such as climate change, Manning said. The temperature readings could also help gauge the intensity of regular toxic "red tide" algae blooms, which grow faster in certain temperatures and can devastate the shellfishing industry.

Manning said he has already gained some new insights, including the drastic effect a single tide can have on temperature, changing it 10 to 15 degrees in some spots. High winds can also swing temperatures in ways researchers hadn't fully recognized.

Ryan, the Boston lobsterman, is hoping the results will help him figure out when and where the temperature is warmer, so he can make his 800 traps more productive. He's also hopeful the research can aid the industry when he's no longer part of it.

"I've always thought that I'd like to leave the industry when I retire as good as it was when I started, or even better," Ryan said.


On the Net:


©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Same Species Responds Differently to Same Warming, Depending on Location

Related Stories

Lobster Traps Going High Tech

March 9, 2009

( -- New England lobstermen have gone high tech by adding low-cost instruments to their lobster pots that record bottom temperature and provide data that could help improve ocean circulation models in the Gulf ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

November 25, 2015

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.