Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia lobster fishermen help scientists track health of species

The goal is to be prepared for warming ocean temperatures, which could have a negative impact on lobster.

Goal to be prepared for warming ocean temperatures

Elizabeth Baker started as a technician with the program six years ago. (Randy Boutilier)

It's been almost 20 years since Nova Scotia fishermen first started helping scientists by attaching temperature gauges to traps. And although ocean temperatures in lobster fishing areas fluctuate each year, they haven't skyrocketed — yet.

If that happens, it could have a serious impact on lobster stocks, said Elizabeth Baker, the project manager for the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society (FSRS).

That's why it's important to monitor the changes, Baker said.

Lobster are "greatly impacted" by water temperature, she said. Warmer ocean temperatures could affect the prevalence of disease and how quickly the lobster grow. It could also impact the ecosystem as a whole, Baker said, and that could lead to a "downward spiral" for the species.

Fishermen use these data loggers to collect information about the lobster they catch. (Shannon Scott Tibbetts)

That's why Baker and her team have outfitted a number of lobster traps with computerized temperature recorders, and recruited fishermen all along the Atlantic coast from Cape Breton to the Bay of Fundy to voluntarily count, measure and note the sex of the lobsters they catch in those special traps.

Approximately 150 fishermen are participating in the project, and each participant is in charge of between two and five project traps per season. About 60 of the temperature gauges are currently in the water in lobster fishing areas 33 and 34 on the South Shore and in the southwestern part of the province.

Officially called the Lobster Recruitment Index Project, the goal is to study the health of the juvenile lobsters that will eventually become part of the commercial lobster fishery.

The hope is that with enough data, scientists will eventually be able to predict when the stocks will increase or decline.

Fisherman Randy Boutilier hauls one of the recruitment project traps near Tangier, N.S.. (Elizabeth Baker)

A partnership is born

Baker's father, Randy Baker, used to fish for groundfish out of West Jeddore on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore. After the cod fishery collapsed, he was recruited to help launch the FSRS in 1994. 

The idea was to heal the sometimes toxic relationship between fishermen and scientists that Baker said existed at the time — and it appears to have worked. After 23 years, the non-profit is still going strong.

"We're all in this together," said Shannon Scott Tibbetts, director of operations for the FSRS. 

FSRS director of operations Shannon Scott Tibbetts. (Shannon Scott Tibbetts)

In fact, the idea for the Lobster Recruitment Index Project came directly from a fisherman who was "concerned about not seeing enough of the smaller lobsters," Scott Tibbetts said.

That project launched in the spring of 1999, and the team continues to get contracts from both fishermen organizations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Scott Tibbetts, who started as a volunteer with the society 19 years ago, said their research shows there is no consistent upwards trend in temperature so far in lobster fishing areas.

But there is evidence of warming oceans elsewhere in the world due to climate change, she said, and it pays to be prepared.

Juvenile lobster caught in one of the project's traps. (Elizabeth Baker)

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning