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American Lobster Restoration, Block Island Sound, Rhode Island



Lobster

The North Cape American Lobster Restoration Project was an effort to restore the Southern New England lobster population following injuries caused by the North Cape oil spill. In January of 1996 the tank barge, North Cape, struck ground off the coast of Rhode Island spilling approximately 828,000 gallons of No. 2 heating oil into Block Island Sound.  The spill caused more than 2.9 million lobsters to wash ashore and the natural resources damage assessment estimated a total of 9 million lobsters were killed from the toxic effects of the oil.  A species-specific restoration plan was developed, aimed at increasing local lobster egg production and recruitment.  The plan accounted for sex ratio, size distribution, survivorship between life stages, delay between the kill and implementation of the restoration project and time required for growth and maturation of lobsters lost as a result of the spill.

The strategy called for 1.248 million legal-size female lobsters to be v-notched and released.  "V-notching" refers to the practice of cutting a v-shaped notch in a lobster's tail to mark the animal for conservation.  Once marked, these lobsters were protected from harvest until the v-notch was no longer present due to molting.  Extending the reproductive lives of the notched females allowed an estimated 17.2 billion eggs to be produced which are expected to yield 9 million lobsters replacing those lost by the spill.

During 2000, the first year of the project, approximately 300,000 adult female lobsters were purchased from dealers, v-notched and released from a research vessel within a ten-mile radius of Point Judith, Rhode Island.  This method of restoration was problematic with non-compliance issues and excessive recapture rates of v-notched lobsters within the restoration area.  To correct for these problems a new approach was adopted the following year.  With this new method lobster fishermen, accompanied by trained observers, were paid to capture, v-notch, and release female lobsters.  These activities were conducted as far as 60 miles offshore and 30 miles east towards Martha's Vineyard.  This expansion of the v-notching area improved lobster restoration efforts by allowing more fishermen to participate in the program and more widely dispersing the marked lobsters.  From 2001 to 2005 the number of female lobsters notched and returned to the ocean each year was approximately 38,000; 212,000; 123,000; 214,000; and 412,000 respectively. In 2006, close to 43,000 female lobsters were notched, with the 1.248 millionth notched by early summer.  Data from restoration monitoring has indicated that the lobster population increased 6 percent each month while restoration activities were being conducted.