Lobster hatchery suspends operations

Posted April 12, 2010, at 8:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.
This is a 1 1/2-week old lobster larva, slightly less than an inch long,  magnified under a microscope. Fed with carefully prepared brine shrimp, this and other lobster larvae experience accelerated growth at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS)
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This is a 1 1/2-week old lobster larva, slightly less than an inch long, magnified under a microscope. Fed with carefully prepared brine shrimp, this and other lobster larvae experience accelerated growth at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS)
Stage IV lobsters are seen in a petri dish at the hatchery. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT)

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Stage IV lobsters are seen in a petri dish at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington.
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Stage IV lobsters are seen in a petri dish at the hatchery. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Stage IV lobsters are seen in a petri dish at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington.
Ted Ames (right) is the manager at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington. Behind him are marine biologist Erin Pulster (left) and technician Lori Douglas. Ames and the other scientists are hoping their hatchery work and juvernile lobster releases will lead to a higher lobster survival rate.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY John Clarke Russ)
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Ted Ames (right) is the manager at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington. Behind him are marine biologist Erin Pulster (left) and technician Lori Douglas. Ames and the other scientists are hoping their hatchery work and juvernile lobster releases will lead to a higher lobster survival rate. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY John Clarke Russ)
Zone C Lobster Hatchery technician Helen Kydd swirls algae in Erlenmeyer flasks to aerate them. The algae are used to feed brine shrimp, which are fed to newly hatched labsters at the Stonington facility.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT)

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Zone C Lobster Hatchery technician Helen Kydd swirls alge in Erlenmeyer containers to aerate them. The alge is then used to feed brine shrimp which inturn are used to feed the newly hatched lobsters at the Stonington hatchery.
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Zone C Lobster Hatchery technician Helen Kydd swirls algae in Erlenmeyer flasks to aerate them. The algae are used to feed brine shrimp, which are fed to newly hatched labsters at the Stonington facility. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Zone C Lobster Hatchery technician Helen Kydd swirls alge in Erlenmeyer containers to aerate them. The alge is then used to feed brine shrimp which inturn are used to feed the newly hatched lobsters at the Stonington hatchery.
Ted Ames of the Penobscot East Resource Center stands near the 100-gallon tanks that will be used to raise young lobsters at the new Zone C lobster hatchery under construction  at Stonington Lobster Co-op.  Lobstermen in the region are working with PERC to stock selected areas in the region with the young lobsters in an effort to ensure a stable population in the future. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY RICH HEWITT)
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Ted Ames of the Penobscot East Resource Center stands near the 100-gallon tanks that will be used to raise young lobsters at the new Zone C lobster hatchery under construction at Stonington Lobster Co-op. Lobstermen in the region are working with PERC to stock selected areas in the region with the young lobsters in an effort to ensure a stable population in the future. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY RICH HEWITT)
rich Crowley, manager at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington, moves Stage IV lobsters from one tank to another, a process repeated every two days to keep the tanks clean.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT)

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Rich Crowley, hatchery manager moves stage IV lobsters from one tank to another, a process repeated every 2 days to keep the tanks clean.
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rich Crowley, manager at the Zone C Lobster Hatchery in Stonington, moves Stage IV lobsters from one tank to another, a process repeated every two days to keep the tanks clean. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Rich Crowley, hatchery manager moves stage IV lobsters from one tank to another, a process repeated every 2 days to keep the tanks clean.

STONINGTON, Maine — For the past five years, researchers at Penobscot East Resource Center have used egg-bearing female lobsters to hatch tens of thousands of larval lobsters that they later released into local waters.

This year, however, the nonprofit organization has decided to suspend its hatchery operations, PERC officials announced Monday. The effort has been supported financially largely by towns on eastern Penobscot and western Blue Hill bays, but the sluggish economy has made funds scarce, they said.

Officials at the center said their research efforts with the hatchery have been successful enough that they’ve decided to use the money they have for new projects. They never set out to be a permanent source of juvenile lobsters, according to PERC Associate Director Veronica Young. She said they mainly wanted to figure out whether they could raise lobsters and then release them into depleted areas as a way to boost the fishery.

“That’s sort of mission accomplished,” Young said Monday. “It really was very effective.”

PERC officials said they were able to raise more than 100,000 lobsters each summer, but they acknowledged that lobsters seem to be plentiful throughout the state, even if the price fishermen get for their catch remains low. According to statistics compiled by Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine fishermen brought ashore 75.6 million pounds of lobster in 2009, the highest annual landings figure ever recorded in Maine. Most marketable lobsters caught in Maine weigh between 1 and 2 pounds.

At a cost of $100,000 a year to run the hatchery, PERC officials decided the hatchery’s operating funds could be better used elsewhere.

“This is a big decision for us,” Robin Alden, PERC’s executive director, said Monday in a prepared statement. “The hatchery was our first project in service of our community, but in tough economic times you have to be smart about using funds.”

According to Young, PERC plans to use more of its operating funds on groundfish research. She said PERC has purchased a groundfish permit and plans to use it to conduct groundfish surveys off the Maine coast. Fish caught under PERC’s permit will go toward a community-supported fishery program, and all relevant data will be shared with PERC researchers and government regulators, she said.

George Lapointe, commissioner of Maine Department of Marine Resources, said Monday that the question of whether depleted lobster populations could be restored with hatcheries is worth looking into. He said the high cost of operating such hatcheries, in Stonington and elsewhere, has been a significant drawback, especially when the health of the resource seems to be fine without them.

“They were trying to look at the evaluation [of hatchery efforts] to see whether it worked,” Lapointe said. “To their credit, they tried to answer that question. [But] that question remains unanswered.”

Lapointe said he thinks it is “smart” for PERC to commit more of its resources toward groundfish research. Clearly, groundfish populations have been depleted and remain depleted in the Gulf of Maine, he said.

“There’s a lot more growth potential” in restoring groundfish stocks, he said.

Steve Robbins III, manager of the Stonington Lobster Co-op, said Monday that even if the hatchery did not provide much of a boost in overall landings, it has served other valuable functions.

It has helped establish stronger connections between the local fishery, the surrounding communities and researchers, Robbins said. It also has helped draw people to Stonington, he said, and has helped the local fishing community develop a better understanding of lobster science.

“What we haven’t done well over the years is sitting back and trying to understand the animal better,” Robbins said. “It’s been a good thing.”

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