Lobster Institute Receives Grant to Study Stressors in the Lobster Supply Chain

May 28, 2020

Contact:  Dr. Rick Wahle, Director – Lobster Institute, University of Maine  richard.wahle@maine.edu   207-841-7723(c)


A UMaine Lobster Institute proposal to continue a collaboration with Maine’s lobster industry to improve practices to reduce mortality throughout the lobster supply chain was recently selected as one of thirty projects nation-wide to receive funding through the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administrations’ Saltonstall-Kennedy Program in 2020.  Of eight funded in the Greater Atlantic Region, it is the only project with a focus on the American lobster.

According to Lobster Institute Director Dr. Rick Wahle, “Maine’s lobster industry asked the Institute to help quantify and mitigate stress points in the lobster supply chain (i.e. poor water quality and handling) that reduce survival and profitability.  The industry calls it ‘shrink’: the mortality lobsters experience as they change hands up the line from capture to kitchen. It’s been a long-standing, contentious issue that is heating up, both literally and figuratively, in a changing climate and competitive world market.” The ultimate goal is to minimize waste and make more efficient use of this valuable, public resource.

The science-industry team includes the Maine Lobster Dealer’s Association, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, University of Maine faculty Drs. Damian Brandy and Deborah Bouchard, as well as external scientific collaborators Dr. Steve Jury of Saint Joseph’s College and Dr. Ben Gutzler of Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. In effect, the collaboration connects all segments of the lobster supply chain – harvesters, dealers, processors to distributors – toward a common goal of better handling practices.


The two-year project brings novel technology to the problem. For example, the team will outfit lobsters with a “Fit-Bug” akin to the Fit-BitTM, to monitor lobster heart rate and movements as they pass from trap to on-board live tank to live storage crate to truck to dealer.  A separate sensor suite called the “MockLobster” will travel along with crated lobsters to log conditions along the way, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pH.


Seed funding through the University of Maine’s Research Reinvestment Fund helped lay the groundwork for the larger NOAA project, funded at $299,106, by developing and coordinating protocols among researchers and industry participants.


This project is the first comprehensive industry-science collaboration to look at the way our industry does business and asks the question, “How can we do things better?”  Small improvements in holding and handling practices can potentially lead to big improvements in the bottom lines of everyone along the supply chain.


“The goal of the Saltonstall-Kennedy program is to fund projects that address the needs of fishing communities, optimize economic benefits buy building and maintaining sustainable fisheries, and increase other opportunities to keep working waterfronts viable,” said Dr. Paul Doremus, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Operations at NOAA Fisheries.


The Lobster Institute has been working for and with the lobster industry since 1987.  Its mission is to foster collaboration and communication in support of a sustainable and profitable lobster industry in the Northeast U.S. and Canada. The Institute is a center of scholarship and outreach in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture at the University of Maine. Institute staff engage with the lobster industry, scientists, fishery managers, health regulators, and legislators to address industry priorities through collaborative research, educational workshops and conferences.


Dr. Wahle and Dr. Brady are also faculty in the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences, based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine. Founded in 1965, the Darling Marine Center’s mission is to connect people to the ocean. The center’s researchers, staff and students work alongside fishermen, aquaculture entrepreneurs, marine industry professionals and other members of the community in Maine and around the world. More information is available at dmc.umaine.edu


Interview contacts:


PI:            Richard Wahle, PhD   richard.wahle@maine.edu  207.841.7723


Co-PIs:    Damian Brady, PhD  damian.brady@maine.edu   207.312.8752 (Faculty – UMaine School of Marine Sciences)

Deborah Bouchard, PhD  deborah.bouchard@maine.edu  207.581.2767 (Faculty – UMaine Cooperative Extension, Maine Animal Health Laboratory Manager, Aquaculture Research Institute Director)


Industry collaborators:  Curt Brown, Ready Seafood Co.  cbrown@readyseafood.com

Annie Tselikis, Maine Lobster Dealers Assn.  annie@mainelobsterdealers.org