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Baby lobster population declining in Maine at alarming rate, may prompt menu price hike

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Planning to have lobster for dinner tonight? Chances are you might want to savor this meal, because lobsters might become more expensive in the coming months. Apparently, the population of young lobsters has declined by 50 percent compared with 2007 levels.

This decline in numbers could significantly affect the market, to the point where lobsters become too expensive to afford. Young lobsters take about 8 years to reach the legal size for harvest, and in 2012 Maine lobsters made up 85 percent of the nation's catch.

The decline of the young lobsters was documented in 11 locations around the Gulf of Maine. The significant statistics caught the eye of Maine's Department of Marine Resources. Lobster catches totaled more that 350 million pounds for the last three years, according to state data, the highest harvest for any three-year period since the late 1800s; this number is expected to slip in 2014 due to the young lobster population decrease.

For those who might believe that over-fishing is the reason for the decline, researchers are saying this is not the case. Apparently, the cause has a lot to do with warmer ocean temperatures, pollution, atmospheric conditions, availability of food, and changes in predation.

This could be the case, as lobsters are known to be quite sensitive to changes in temperature. Furthermore, they are also sensitive to pollution, as this can cause shell rot and other serious illnesses.

Since the 1980s, divers from the University of Maine have been tracking lobster population and settlement rate. The 11 locations in the gulf along with locations in Canada and Massachusetts all witnessed a decline in young lobster population this year. So far, researchers have examined more than 100 sites that produce lobster.

"It's our first indicator that things might be changing in the future," according to Carl Wilson, Maine's lobster biologist, from this ABC News article. "Low settlement, it's thought, in the future will lead to lower landings."

If the problem continues, then Maine's 4,500 lobstermen with their 2 million lobster traps could face serious problems going forward. While retailers are monitoring the issue, it is clear that a quick fix is not forthcoming, and lobster lovers should prepare for the worst as prices are expected to skyrocket.

Lobstermen have been experiencing years of record catches, and many of them have expected this day to come. As the saying goes, nothing that is too good lasts forever.

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