It's been a disastrous decade for those who make a living harvesting lobsters from Long Island Sound. But it could have gotten a lot worse, if a regional fisheries commission had imposed a five-year total moratorium.
A 1999 lobster die-off in the Sound brought the industry to its knees, sharply cutting the numbers to a few dozen lobstering permits. Until last week, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission had been pondering a moratorium from North Carolina to southern Massachusetts. The few remaining lobstermen certainly could not have survived that.
There's always a tension between the long-term health of a fishery and the immediate needs of those who rely on it to survive, between the biologists and the weatherworn fishers who question the sampling methods that the scientists use.
Preserving the fishery is in everyone's interest, but there are less drastic solutions. Here's one that worked for Connecticut: Instead of harvesting female lobsters, lobstermen cut a V-shaped notch in their shells, let them go, and get paid for them as if they had kept them. The females remain in the water until the notch heals. The males? They go to the pot.
For now, the moratorium has been tabled. But the commission is still mulling how to rebuild the lobster population. In doing that, it should continue to reject a moratorium that would destroy Long Island lobstering, and instead adopt a plan that preserves both the fishery and the fishers. hN