Lobster Fisherwoman and man hauling traps in Belfast, Maine. Lobster fishing comprises 80 percent of Maine’s fishing industry. Climate change is putting it and the lobster at risk. Photo: Ramona du Houx

By Ramona du Houx

In March, 2019,  The National Science Foundation awarded the Gulf of Maine Research Institute a $789,659 grant to examine the impact of a climate warming on growth and population patterns in cod and lobster in the Gulf of Maine.

The study is imperative for the Maine economy as well as monitoring the health of the Gulf of Maine, the body of water warming faster than any other due to climate change.

The study will also document marine habitat shifts across the northwest Atlantic caused by rising temperatures. Recent research has shown that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost anywhere else in Earth’s oceans.

“The health of Maine’s coastal ecosystems are central to the beauty of our coastline and to the livelihoods of people throughout our state,” said Senators Collins and King in a joint statement. “This funding will aid the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in its work to better understand and mitigate the impacts of changing ocean conditions on our communities, marine ecosystems, and economy.”

The funding will aid the institute in its work to better understand and mitigate the impacts of climate change in the Gulf of Maine and how that might impact coastal community economies, and ecosystems.


Maine’s $495 million lobster industry, the most valuable commercial fishery, could face the same kind of population decline that has affected urchins, scallops, groundfish and shrimp. While overfishing reduced these species harvests, warming waters due to climate change have been identified as a key impediment to their recovery. Maine shrimp is still off limits to fishermen, impacting their livelihoods.

“With lobsters comprising 80 percent of the state’s overall fishery value of $616 million, Maine’s coastal economy is perilously dependent on this single fishery. We only need to look at the die-offs south of Cape Cod to see how climate change is having an impact,” said Rick Wahle, a UMaine professor and co- author of a 2016 scientific paper based on research conducted by UMaine’s Darling Marine Center and by Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

This lobster study, indicated that larvae reared in 66-degree water had a higher mortality rate than those cultivated in the water 5 degrees cooler, the typical norm temperature in the western Gulf of Maine. Water temperatures in the western Gulf of Maine are expected to rise 5 degrees by 2100


Lobsters are Maine’s largest cash crop, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The grant was awarded through the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (photo below) is a nonprofit organization located in Portland that researches the complex marine ecology in the Gulf of Maine and studies the many challenges of ocean stewardship and economic growth in the region. The institute provides students and teachers with science education resources and engages fishermen in collaborative research.

Scientists from the institute were significant contributors in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, published by the federal government in November of 2018. Mandated by Congress starting in 1990, the report assesses climate change impacts across the U.S., now and throughout the century.