Long Island lobstermen, already straining under the weight of a seasonal closure of the Long Island Sound and sharply reduced lobster populations, face the potential for more closures as federal regulators work to rebuild a depleted stock.
Local lobstermen oppose closures, and question how regulators are making their decisions.
At a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission last week, the American Lobster Management Board agreed to review a series of new measures to address what they called the continuing decline in the Southern New England lobster fishery, which includes the Long Island Sound. The fishery has been affected by environmental factors and fishing activity, the board said.
“Our most recent  assessment showed that the stock has continued to decline and we’re at record low abundance right now,” said Megan Ware, fishery management plan coordinator for the commission.
Measures the board will consider include additional area and seasonal closures, according to a report of the meeting from the commission. The group also may move to further limit the size of lobsters that can be harvested, and the number of traps lobstermen can set in the water.
The few remaining Long Island lobstermen have opposed attempts to further restrict fishing, saying regulators haven’t done proper surveys to determine the real state of the fishery.
“We’re not the problem,” said John German, president of the Long Island Sound Lobstermen’s Association, adding that the few remaining lobstermen don’t make much of a dent on the remaining population. “I just want them [regulators] to leave us alone.”
Montauk lobsterman Al Schaffer said he and others saw a resurgence in the areas they fish around the Long Island Sound last year, though fishing is down thus far this spring. “There’s zero science,” he said, adding he strongly opposes any attempt to further restrict fishing.
“There’s five or six guys fishing off Long Island right now,” he said. “What’s the point of putting us out of business? We’re not going to catch the last lobster.”
The lobster board in 2013 ordered closure of the Long Island Sound for lobster fishing in 2013 between the months of September and November. Other areas off Long Island were closed as well. Ware said it’s still unclear what impact those measures have had. “I don’t have a definitive answer on that,” she said, noting the goal was a 10 percent reduction in fishing.
Ware said a technical committee will first review which measures are most likely to address the board’s goal of increasing egg-laying production by 20 percent to 60 percent. The committee has not been asked to assess is whether increases in predator fish preying on young lobsters is contributing to the declines, Ware said. Any new rules aren’t likely to be formulated and approved until next year, and may not be implemented until 2018, she said.
And while she declined to speculate on which seasons or which areas could be targeted for possible closures, she noted that egg-laying by female lobsters is at its height in the summer.
But Schaffer said summer is when lobstermen are busiest, and closure would finish what remains of the Long Island lobster fishery. “That’s like the noose around our neck and we’re done,” he said. “That would be the final bullet.”