Photo by Paul Keleher/Flickr CC
What has the world come to? A report has come across the newswire telling of misery among the lobstermen of New England. They have too many lobsters, and no one wants to buy them. Remember when lobster was one of the most expensive foods you could buy? Now it's so cheap that fishermen are hawking lobsters on the street for a few bucks.
At first glance, this situation seems to epitomize the Great Recession of 2009. Wall Street fat cats aren't dining out anymore. Demand for luxury goods has plummeted across the board. Hard-working lobstermen are left in the lurch. And you can be pretty sure President Obama isn't going to give them a bailout.
At second glance, it seems even worse--more evidence of the obliteration of the world's fisheries. Over and over again, fisherman in different parts of the world have caught too many fish; first the price plummets, then the entire stock collapses. In Canada, cod fishermen are still waiting for the cod stock they wiped out nearly 20 years ago to return. Are the current woes of our lobstermen just a harbinger of disaster to come?
Both of these explanations sound plausible, but neither is accurate.
The majority of New England's lobster catch comes from the Gulf of Maine, and unlike most fishermen around the world, lobstermen in the Gulf have done a decent job of fishing sustainably. For decades they've been protecting young lobsters, extra-large lobsters, and female lobsters with eggs, throwing all these back into the sea, exactly because they don't want to wipe out the entire stock.