Photos by Ramona du Houx
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) has released its first forecast predicting the timing of the seasonal uptick in Maine lobster landings expected for 2016. The forecast currently predicts that the season will start 2–3 weeks early. The forecast will be updated weekly through mid-April, when the predictive power of the tool reaches its peak, and will be available at www.gmri.org/lobster-forecast.
“July 4 is typically considered to be a normal start date for the lobster fishery in Maine,” said Andrew Pershing, GMRI’s Chief Scientific Officer. “If the timing is off by just a few weeks, it can have a major impact throughout the supply chain.”
In 2012, warm water temperatures caused Maine lobsters to move inshore and molt earlier than normal, kicking off the high-landings period in the fishery three weeks early. The supply chain was not ready for this influx, leading to lower prices.
“Participants in the fishery and supply chain have learned from the 2012 experience and devised a number of strategies to cope with an early start,” explains Katherine Mills, GMRI associate research scientist. “The goal of our forecast is to give people in the industry advanced warning so they can plan ahead for what is shaping up to be a very early season.”
GMRI built the forecast model with funding from NASA. It uses historical lobster landings and temperature data from the NERACOOS buoys in the Gulf of Maine to predict the start date for the season. The model currently shows at 55 percent chance that the season will start three weeks early, a 41 percent chance that it will start two weeks early, and a 4 percent chance that it will start one week early.
The forecast of an early start to the lobster season is due to warm ocean temperatures. Water temperatures along the coast of Maine are currently running 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2–3 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal. While coastal temperatures can fluctuate considerably this time of year, long-range forecast information provided by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicates that warm water temperatures are likely to persist into the spring and summer, partly due to the influence of El Niño.
GMRI will continue to update the forecast each week through mid-April, as new temperature information comes in.