As Maine’s waters warm due to climate change, blue crabs are expanding their range northward and showing up with more frequency in Maine, a region known for its lobster. Blue crabs are one of many species that are expanding their range into the Gulf of Maine, which is one of the fastest-warming parts of the Atlantic. While blue crabs have been known to show up in Maine lobster traps, fishermen are seeing more of them in recent years. Scientists are now trying to understand what their arrival could mean for Maine’s traditional fisheries.
Blue crabs are aggressive competitors and a concern for shellfish harvester Max Burtis, who worried about baby lobsters and baby clams. Helen Cheng, a marine scientist with the Wells Research Reserve, observed a blue crab voraciously consuming a baby lobster in an experiment tank. If that is a snapshot of what may end up happening in the Gulf of Maine, it is very concerning, especially if they can target smaller lobsters. However, Burtis sees the potential benefits of a blue crab population in Maine. Blue crabs could help control some invasive species, and they are one of the most valuable fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay. Landings from Maryland and Virginia topped about $60 million last year.
Scientists stress that Maine does not yet have an established blue crab population. While blue crabs have been showing up more frequently in Maine lobster traps, many lobster fishermen in Maine are skeptical about the arrival of range-expanding species such as blue crabs. Some of the responses were pretty bold. It’s like, no, we only do lobster here. Like, that’s what we’ve been doing. Like – and so there’s this sense of pride and tradition for that.
Laura Crane, who is studying blue crabs for the Wells Research Reserve, has been catching around two to three dozen of them a week. Crane has found several mating pairs of blue crabs in the traps, indicating that blue crabs at multiple life stages are now in the Gulf of Maine. For blue crabs to become established in Maine, they’ll have to survive multiple Maine winters, which scientists acknowledge are getting milder.
Blue crabs are one of many range-expanding species that are moving into Maine’s waters. Scientists are now trying to understand what their arrival could mean for Maine’s traditional fisheries, which include lobster and shellfish. The arrival of blue crabs is a concern for shellfish harvesters and lobster fishermen, who are skeptical about the possibility of a new commercial fishery. While blue crabs could help control some invasive species and are one of the most valuable fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay, their arrival could also have negative impacts on Maine’s traditional fisheries.