LFA 27 Lobster Science Workshop 2004 Report

Report from Workshop on Lobster Science in LFA 27



The Workshop on Lobster Science for LFA 27 was held in the auditorium of the Canadian Coast Guard College in Sydney, N. S., on March 31 to April 1, 2004. The workshop was sponsored by the three main fishing groups located in LFA 27, The Maritimes Fishermen's Union Local #6, The North of Smokey Fishermen's Association, and The Eastern Cape Breton Fishermen's Association, in cooperation with The Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The LFA 27 Lobster Advisory Board agreed that a workshop should be conducted to allow lobster fishermen the opportunity to identify specific science projects which need to be conducted, and the possible benefits this data would provide to lobster fishermen. Industry was also asked to discuss possible ways that these projects may be funded and undertaken.

The workshop was co-chaired by Jeff Brownstein, President of MFU Local #6, and Dr. John Tremblay, DFO Science.

The representatives of LFA 27 lobster fishermen were asked to invite other fishermen from their ports to attend the two-day workshop. The first day would consist of listening to a number of guest speakers and reviewing various presentations. On day two of the workshop participants were divided into four separate working groups with a leader/rapporteur identified. The groups would all assemble and discuss the results of the individual workgroups, and identify any common goals.

Objectives of the workshop:

  1. To table science needs for the next 5 years.
  2. To develop approaches for the conduct of science studies in partnership with industry, First Nations, and other groups.



John Tremblay identified three areas of concern to the DFO science Branch:

  1. Lack of Distribution Indicators
  2. Limited Knowledge of Ecosystem Indicators
  3. Interest in conducting a Suction / Recruitment Study

Industry asked why the rate of return during tagging studies in the 1990' 's (conducted by DFO) varied from area to area. John Tremblay answered he was not sure, there may have been many reasons for the variation such as high natural mortality or possibly lack of fishermen's participation. Some fishermen questioned the lack of participation and it was explained that it was a possible cause for variation in the rate of tag return, not that it was known, but one possible reason to explain the variations.


Some fishermen were concerned that another proposal for a carapace size increase was considered at this time. Some local fishermen had proposed the increase for financial reasons, explaining that the number of canner lobsters caught was so minimal that it would be beneficial to return them to the water and allow them to increase in size for the next season. The proposal was voted down by the majority of Port Representatives at the LFA Lobster Advisory Meeting. Fishermen thought it was best to examine the results of the initial size increase completed in 2002, before entertaining more proposals for another size increase.

Some fishermen were also concerned with the apparent migration of lobster licenses from the Northern regions of LFA 27 to the central and southern regions. The lobster fishery in the Northern region seems to have improved, possibly because of a decrease in effort (a lot less traps in the water), while the fishery in the central and southern regions, which had traditionally been better fishing areas, have not reached the same levels as those in the North.



Duncan explained the study has a number of sponsors who help fund the experiments. The experiments were conducted over the last two years (2002 & 2003). The larvae appeared to stay in relatively the same area, when temperatures are stable. In 2003 an influx of cold water resulted in low catch rates, even after the water returned to its warmer level.

The time necessary to conduct the experiment was approximately 4 to 5.5 hours per day and conducted over a two-week period for each vessel; there were two vessels participating and sampling for approximately one month in total.

A current flow experiment was also conducted in 2002 using drogues, but was not continued in 2003 because of budget restraints.

The larvae appear to stay in the water column from 2 to 4 weeks; this time may vary when colder water is present. The survival rate of larvae diminish when temperatures fall below 12 degrees Celsius, it is not known whether the colder water actually kills the larvae, or if it slows down the development so much that the larvae is in the water column for an extended period of time, thus being more vulnerable to predators.

Stage 1 to Stage 4 larvae may take from 3 to 6 weeks to develop, however various stages of larvae may be present at any given time because lobsters do not all spawn at the same time, but may spawn over a period of weeks.

A question as to where these larvae originated arose, but the answer was not known as no detailed larvae drift study has been conducted. The drift study that was not continued in 2003 would have been of great importance had it been able to be conducted over a number of years; noting any variation in current as well as other factors like ice flow, wind, storm surges, etc.

The fact that no or very few stage 2 and stage 3s were caught in the net during the experiment was discussed. It is believed that these stage 2s and 3s may be present deeper within the water column and therefore subject to a greater degree to current flow. It was also noted that at varying times the temperature throughout the water column might differ greatly, causing other stages to seek a suitable temperature range.

Clarification was requested as to why, if it usually requires 6 weeks for stage 1 larvae to reach stage 4 and settle to the bottom, were stage 4 larvae present throughout the 4-week period. The stage 4 larvae do not remain in the water for a 4 week period, but most likely the stage 4 larvae observed over the 4 weeks were different larvae produced by females spawning at different times over a period of several weeks. It was noted it might be interesting to have the study extended to cover a 5-week period.

The discussion continued on current flow in all of LFA 27, and how it is believed that a gyre effect is present in Sydney Bight. If this gyre were indeed present, it would then be a safe assumption that lobsters spawning here are producing eggs that are remaining here and replenishing our stocks. However some studies of currents dealing with crab suggests the current flows out of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and continues on in a southerly direction, this would result in eggs spawned in LFA 27, benefiting LFAs other than 27. However, it was stated that the study involving snow crabs would differ from those of lobster in a number ways: snow crab larvae remain in the water column for up to 8 weeks as compared to 6 weeks for lobster, snow crab spawn at a different time of year than lobster, the water temperatures are different at that time of year, and lobster larvae tend to be closer to shore where as snow crab larvae a generally offshore causing a possible difference in flow direction.

Fishermen present were interested in the v-notching that is done by Guysborough County fishermen. Each fisherman saves, then releases back to the ocean, 110 pounds of nonegg bearing female lobsters with a carapace size greater than 110 mm, after they have been v-notched. Since this has been implemented (4 years), along with other conservation measures, fishermen have seen a steady increase in their catch. It is believed that approximately 75% of v-notched females are breeding; also 40 to 50% of the v-notched females released are recaptured the following year. There is some concern as to the successful breeding of these large females, as it requires a large male to breed with a large female. One male lobster could breed with several female lobsters. It was also stated that a v-notch might be present for approximately 5 years before it disappears through the molting process.



The FSRS Trap Recruitment Project has been very beneficial to Scientists and is used to aid in stock assessment. There are some gaps in ports not participating at this time and the FSRS would like to fill these gaps.

The project to date has shown that recruitment is on the increase and fishermen should see this increased reflected in their catches within the next year or two.



The possibility of studying the effects of pollutants from plastic resins on lobsters was mentioned as an important project that needs to be done.

The quality of Lobsters, whether held in holding devices or caught in the wild, is determined by extracting blood and measuring the protein levels and hemocytes.

It was noted that there has never been a major die off of lobsters in Canadian waters due to any illnesses. Most of the illnesses that affect lobsters are present in the wild, but are mostly observed in lobsters in captivity, because these diseases seem to enter through cracks or wounds, which may be caused in the capture of lobsters.

The transmission of these lobster-based diseases to humans does not occur.

The Lobster Science Centre continues to do research on lobster, and future mandates may include a study to determine and identify a parasitic host causing the transmission of diseases, and identifying genetic markers to distinguish the various lobster populations.



The Bras d'Or lakes is an interesting ecosystem in that the lakes contain many species that are common outside in the ocean, despite the difference in salinity. Some of these species also adapt to deal with this environment. Industry asked if during the lobster study in the Lakes, if any tests were done on the shell hardness, unfortunately none were performed. The Unama'ki may be interested in doing a larvae drift study in the Lakes.

The Lobster Project in the Lakes used commercial lobster traps, however, a considerable difference in catch rates between traps was observed. It was suggested that this might be due to poachers and tourists hauling the traps. A wide range of sizes was captured, as well as, by-catches of Rock Crab and Green Crab. The boat operator was experienced fishing the Lakes during the 'Food Fishery'. It was unknown if a food fishery for lobster is on going in the lakes during the Lobster Project.

The possible effects of an increase in the 'Black Back' (Winter Flounder) population were not known.

The Unama'ki are involved in the protection of The Bras d'Or Lakes and it's species and have begun to purchase lobster licenses for the Lakes, then retire these licenses so as to relieve any fishing pressure on the lake's lobsters.

The Lake's ecosystem is rather unique with salinity levels ranging from a low of 4 ppm in the surface waters after rain, to a high of 29 ppm in the outer Great Bras d'Or. The Lakes have also experienced pollution due to sewers from many communities and cottages emptying directly into the Lakes, and the rather slow rate of flushing.



ACAP may be a potential source for fishermen to seek out and partner with for specific scientific projects.

This experiment was not successful in finding juvenile lobsters in the tidal waters of our coast, as they do in Maine, USA, however it did show that Cape Breton's coastline is dramatically different and likely doesn't provide the necessary habitat for juvenile lobsters to dwell.

The possibility of conducting another juvenile lobster study, using local divers and their knowledge was discussed, and industry seemed to agree that it would be more successful and worthwhile, if funding were available.



Dennis is a commercial fisherman from Little River, with nearly 44 years of fishing experience. During his 44 years Dennis has seen remarkable changes in the gear, technology and the types and sizes of vessels.

Key points touched on by Dennis include:

  1. The financial break even point is now at $43,000.00

  2. Fishermen have considerable amount of 'paper work' now, including logbooks, HST claims, EI regulations, and license conditions.

  3. Fishermen must now take courses, such as MED, Digital Radio, Transport Canada Regulations.

  4. Fishermen must have an education to survive.

  5. Fishermen having been conducting science projects for years, but may not have knowingly called it science. Many fishermen keep track of the number of spawny lobsters they catch, or may be able to identify a certain lobster due to some disfigurement, and track it's movement throughout the season if it is caught several times.

  6. A challenge facing DFO Science and the lobster advisory representatives is to communicate back to the fishermen in the harbours, in a language they can understand, so that they can see the need for continued science activities and cooperate if they choose.

  7. Fishermen want to fish, they for the most part are not concerned with attending meetings, however they do want to be informed as to what is undertaken and why? Fishermen reps must be able to get to these fishermen and explain the basic concept of what science is attempting to achieve and how this may benefit the fishermen and the industry.


A brief history of the major conservation measures implemented by DFO:

DFO and industry must work together to develop a conservation strategy that will allow fishermen to gain the most benefits from the fishery, while ensuring its sustainability.

We all must be better organized and informed to improve the way we do business.


Fishermen were asked if any conservation-oriented indicators should be identified. Fishermen expressed distrust with DFO and were uncertain how indicators would be used or if identifying them would be useful.

Some fishermen felt that the size increase was imposed on them and the results are not yet positive, others believe the results are positive and will be even more so in the next couple of years. DFO indicated a stock status report from the February 2004 assessment meeting (RAP) is available to all interested fishermen. It was noted that the 2002 landings data for LFA 27 lobster was not yet ready.

Other discussion points included:

  1. Seals and other predator – prey relationships.

  2. Rock Crab by- catch and use for bait.

  3. The possible effects of seismic activity

  4. The success and implementation of a seeding project, with artificial reefs, as a safe guard against a total collapse of the fishery.


  1. What science work does industry think is required, what data do they hope to achieve, and prioritize in order of importance?

  2. How can this science work be undertaken and completed, both financially and logistically?


The Industry Fishermen and some of the presenters were divided into four working groups and asked to discuss the two questions posed to them. A group leader and rapporteur were identified. Fishermen from the same harbour were separated into different groups when possible. John Tremblay floated from one working group to the other to assist with any science issues that may arise.


Group one reported the following four main science priorities that industry felt should be completed and which they thought with industry's cooperation could be financially feasible:

  1. A Tagging Study – A tagging study would help identify any localized movement of lobster in LFA 27. The tagged lobsters could also be measured at time of recapture to determine exactly how much the carapace has increased. Fishermen could be trained or one technician could be hired to tag lobsters throughout LFA 27, both during the season when shorts and egg bearing females could be tagged, but in the fall of the year when all lobsters caught could be tagged. It was suggested fishermen may be willing to donate their time, vessel, gear and fuel. The project would have to be coordinated and a rigid timetable imposed to succeed, the project should be conducted after the molting season in the fall but before the weather becomes a factor. The total number of tags would have to be determined as well as a system to collect the returned tags and data the following year.

  2. Larvae Drift Study – This study was considered as equal importance as the tagging study, however, it was noted the cost to complete such a study would be a challenge. The group thought if the number of drogues needed to do a portion of LFA 27 could be determined, then LFA 27 could have a study done over a number of years by doing a portion at a time. The analysis of the data would have to reflect yearly changes in weather patterns, water temperature, ice flows, and strength and direction of wind. The group also thought a drag for larvae, based on Guyborough's study, could be attempted if the costs to manufacture the drag apparatus could be kept to a minimum.

  3. Egg Bearing Female Study – The group felt fishermen would be willing to count and record the number of egg bearing females caught in their traps throughout the season. This would provide information on the number of egg bearing females and any irregularities from year to year might correspond to fluctuations in water temperature. This count would also provide a timetable as to when spawning actually occurs and if more egg bearing females are more prevalent at the start of the season as compared to the end.

  4. Escape Vents – Fishermen are concerned about handling undersize lobsters, although done carefully small lobsters are subject to injury while in the trap from other lobsters and fish that are also trapped. The group thought some experiments, just passing various size lobsters through an escape vent would help determine if legal size lobsters are escaping. Industry would like a definitive answer as to the most efficient size of vent that will allow small lobsters to escape, but retain any legal size. The group also suggested various size escape vents could be installed in commercial traps and fishermen could record the number of small lobsters retained. It was suggested a test number of traps for each size escape vent should be approximately 20.


Group 2 identified 12 topics of concern to industry, but prioritized it down to 5 main projects. The 12 topics of interest are:

The 5 main projects this group would like to undertake are as follows:

  1. Larval Drift Study – This group agreed with Group # 1 that a current drift study using drogues and buoys be conducted. The group also would like some towing and larvae collection completed.

  2. Seal Predation – The group thought it would be beneficial to know when and if seals are eating lobsters. It is believed that seals prey on lobsters immediately after molt, when the shells are soft, so a study to determine if seals sightings is more prevalent during the molting season. The group also thought a study of any past stomach analysis data would help determine if lobsters were present in the stomachs.

  3. Rock Crab Predation – The group thought a study of the Rock Crab fishery might help to determine the availability of food, both the presence of juvenile rock crab, and any competition with adult crab. The group also believes that adult rock crab may prey on juvenile lobsters. If possible a stomach analysis of rock crab may be interesting as well as setting up of a test site to see the interrelation between rock crab and lobsters.

  4. Industrial Impacts – The group felt it was important to see what or if any adverse affects on the lobster stock could be attributed to industrial activities. Some possible harmful impacts may be caused by lying of pipelines, sewer outfalls, seismic activities, test drilling, and fresh water run offs. The group would like to see a video survey in potentially harmful areas, post season sampling survey to determine the distribution of lobsters (do they move off shore in the fall?), larvae sampling, and a study to determine the direct effects of seismic activity.

  5. General Lobster Health Monitoring – The group thought it would benefit the industry to have a lobster health monitoring system in place, possibly in cooperation with The Lobster Science Centre. The group would like to see blood and tissue samples routinely taken and sent for analysis to help prevent any diseases like the soft shell.


Group # 3 reported first their 6 priorities for science and followed that with suggestions to help get these projects completed.

  1. Larvae Drift Survey – The group wanted a study done to determine what effects wind and current play with the larva stage of lobster from LFA 27. The group thought additional information on water temperatures would be beneficial, also the identification of any spawning 'hot spots'. The group felt it might be important to study possible habitat enhancement work and the possibility of seeding these areas with stage 4 larvae.

  2. Status – The group wanted more at sea sampling of lobsters and for the trap recruitment experiments done by the FSRS to continue and expand if possible. The group would like the FSRS to expand the data they present to include result from the individual ports, rather than LFA 27 as a whole.

  3. Enhancement / Study – The group already mentioned habitat enhancement and the possibility of future seeding projects, but they also would like more information on our local habitat and if it will support larger lobsters. Some concerns were expressed about the amount of larger lobsters on the bottom now, due to conservation measures adopted, and whether the local habitat could support these lobsters, or would they leave for a more suitable environment.

  4. Predator / Prey Relationships – A study should be implemented to identify the relationships of lobster to various species such as; seals, rock crab, sea urchins, starfish, perch, kelp, and green crab.

  5. Algae / Slime – Fishermen in this group have noticed in the last few years the presence of a brown algae substance as well as a green slime. Fishermen have noticed catch levels seem to fall when these are present. Is this the result of the slime getting on the gear or for other reasons? Fishermen would like to have samples taken to identify what type of algae is present and how it affects the lobster industry.

  6. Lobster Study – The group thought a juvenile lobster study would be beneficial to the industry. Divers would be necessary to find the small lobsters and give estimates as to their numbers. It may also be interesting to know if juvenile lobsters prefer a certain area, a juvenile area?

The rapporteur then reported how the group thought it best to achieve the ability to fund and conduct these studies.


The fourth group identified 6 science projects they decided should be undertaken:

  1. A) Larvae Drift Study – Members of this group thought possibly some drift studies might have already been done in the Cape Dauphine Area. We must look at seeking out other science work already completed and determine if it is still relevant. The group wanted studies done on the effects of wind, tide and weather on larvae in LFA 27.

    B) Pollution – Studies must be completed to determine if lobsters are negatively impacted by Industrial run off; sewer outflows, mining activities, etc.

  2. Seals – The group wanted a study of the seal's diet and stomach contents done. It is believed a lot of lobsters may be taken by seals, especially during the molt. A test site could be established at the Bird Islands.

  3. Tagging Study – This group not only felt a tagging study would be useful to determine movement, but also they would like tests to determine the extent of mortality caused by tagging. Past tagging projects had varying rates of recapture and it was felt fishermen may not of cooperated, but others take exception to this and suggest it may be caused by mortality, especially in areas of large industrial activity.

  4. Escape Vents – Members of this group were concerned that escape vents not only allow small lobsters to escape, but may also allow them to enter the trap. The small lobsters potential face more danger in the trap from other species as well as harm from not being handled properly.

  5. Seismic – Seismic activity is proposed in LFA 27, the oil and gas industry claim they will conduct this testing in the fall in the outer limits offshore of LFA 27. The group thought experiments must, be done to determine to what degree seismic activity will harm lobster larvae, and an out of season trap survey in the outer parts of LFA 27 should be conducted to determine if any lobsters are present there at that time of year.

Group 4 also proposed possible ways to achieve the ability to conduct some of these science priorities.


The four groups identified many recurring projects of interest to the lobster industry. The most common was a larvae drift study, and others such as, seal predation, pollution, tagging study, stock status and escape vent studies.

The larvae drift is most important to industry and undoubtedly going to be the most expensive. The workshop identified immediately that another workshop is necessary just to deal with this study, and a committee must be formed to organize and begin the necessary preparations to see the project progress from the planning stage to completion.

The workshop also demonstrated that fishermen are ready to share their knowledge, time and vessels to help achieve good reliable science that their fellow fishermen may be confident with.

All present felt the workshop was a worthwhile undertaking, but expressed concerns over the timing. Those present would like to start as early as possible on the next workshop so that some initiatives could be in place for the 2005-fishing season.


  1. A future workshop must be held to explore all possible data on currents and tidal drift for LFA 27. This workshop should be held no later than December 2004.

  2. Formation of a science working committee, may possibly be comprised of 6 industry representatives (2 from MFU, 2 from NOSFA, and 2 from ECBFA), 1 from DFO Science, 1 from LFA Lobster Advisory Board, 1 from FSRS, 1 from First Nations, and 1 from a community minded group, which may aid in the raising of funds. This working group should meet in August of 2004, to begin preparation of the next workshop.

  3. The committee will develop a timetable for further workshops and science activities.


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