Baby lobster numbers point to healthy future for P.E.I. fishery

A cage filled with rocks on the ocean floor seems like a strange place for a nursery, but for baby lobsters, it's the ideal place to grow — and it's how the Prince Edward Island Fisherman's Association works to study and predict the health of Island lobster stocks.

'Seeing them feels like seeing a little bit of the future.'

The baby lobsters are measured and their sex is noted if possible and added to the data for the Island-wide study. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

A cage filled with rocks on the ocean floor seems like a strange place for a nursery, but for baby lobsters, it's the ideal place to grow — and it's how the Prince Edward Island Fisherman's Association (PEIFA) works to study and predict the health of Island lobster stocks.

For nine years now the PEIFA, with support from the province and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), has been putting 30 collectors — mesh-bottom cages filled with rocks — at seven sites around P.E.I., to attract baby lobsters and learn from them.

Sifting through the rock and silt looking for the tiny baby lobsters is an important step in the study's process. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"The goal here is to get a trend around the Island," said Melanie Giffin, marine biologist and program planner with PEIFA. "We want  to see whether numbers are increasing or decreasing over the years and then maybe down the road once we have enough data, be able to compare that to landings."

The collectors are put out in July, and hauled up in the fall. They are brought ashore one by one, the larger rocks are removed, and scientists carefully sift through the pebbles and mud looking for tiny lobsters.

'The lobster industry here on P.E.I. is such a huge industry, knowing and seeing them feels like seeing a bit of the future,' says Giffin. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Dime-sized lobster

"It's always excitement," said Giffin.

"It's still excitement, every time we find one, which is kind of surprising when you think about it because we have been finding so many,  so to hear that excitement from everybody when we do is great."

The study is looking for lobsters that were hatched earlier this year. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)
The baby lobsters are roughly same size as a grasshopper. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

David Giard, a technician with DFO, says it's exciting because it's an indicator of the health of the species.

"Sometimes in one collector we can find up to 15-18 young of the year, that's quite impressive," said Girard.

DFO technicians take size measurements as part of the data collected. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

He said compared to similar studies happening in Atlantic Canada, P.E.I.'s baby lobster numbers are enviable.

"We meet once a year to talk about the numbers and everybody is kinda jealous of what we have over here on P.E.I. because the numbers are so high compared to theirs."

If they are large enough, the DFO technicians will also determine the sex of the baby lobsters. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Once the baby lobsters have been collected and measured, they are returned to the ocean.

It'll be five to seven years before they are big enough to be caught and eaten — but Giffin said seeing so many of them is promising.

Once the baby lobsters have been measured and inspected they are swiftly returned to the water. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"I think we all love our job," she said.  "The lobster industry here on P.E.I. is such a huge industry, knowing and seeing them feels like seeing a bit of the future. We know those young of the year are there, and that's the future of our fishery."

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About the Author

Jessica Doria-Brown

Videojournalist

Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.