A fascinating look at how climate change affects the lobster industry

The Boston Globe's Spotlight team and the Portland Press Herald recently teamed up for a two-part in-depth examination of the impacts of climate change on the Maine lobster industry, focusing on the town of Vinalhaven. The remote island town of a thousand or so people is one of the busiest fishing villages in the state, with a handful of residents earning an average of half a million dollars annually from lobstering. But, as The Globe explains, that wealth is a recent and temporary trend, that can be explicitly traced to climate change:

The warming waters have led to a tremendous lobster boom and bust along the coast. Once bountiful waters off New York and Connecticut are now lobster graveyards.

New Hampshire and Maine have reaped riches, more than quadrupling the number of pounds caught since 1980, but their catch is now at risk. Meanwhile, Canada is banking on a gold rush.


The top 20 lobstermen on the island had landings worth an average $579,000 apiece in 2019, placing them among the state's wealthiest residents, even with their staggering bait and fuel bills and hefty shares paid to sternmen.

The wealth inhibits talk of climate change and of the dimming prospects for Maine's lobster population. No one wants to hear that the good times will end. To acknowledge that likelihood is a kind of sacrilege — a betrayal of island life itself.

Naturally, that fear of losing their cashcow-of-the-sea has sparked some unfortunate climate denial, cheered on by opportunistic policymakers who don't want some far-off federal government making decisions about their livelihoods.

I enjoyed these stories not as just as a New Englander, but because I appreciated the microcosm of the storytelling. The Globe and Press Herald do an excellent job of visually demonstrating how climate change has directly caused the lobster boom these Mainers have enjoyed for the last dozen years or so — and, by extension, why climate change will cause that boom to burst much sooner than later. By focusing on this small town, it also helps you understand why some people would be so resistant to the glaring facts of reality; as Upton Sinclair, once pointed out, it's difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on not understanding it.

This tension is further exacerbated by an ongoing subplot, of sorts, regarding new legislation to protect right whales. The changing climate has been driving right whales nearer to the shore, so the EPA wants to enforce new regulations about the kind of gear these Maine fishermen can use so as not to harm the already-endangered animals. While this is obviously a noble cause, the townsfolk argue that there's no evidence of any right whales actually being killed by lobster nets; therefore, why should they have to sink their hard-earned money into new gear to solve a problem that doesn't exist?

The fact that there is a shred of validity to that argument makes the whole situation even more frustrating — because you can understand why the folks of Vinalhaven are hostile towards outsiders, even if you desperately want them to listen to the god damn climate science.

The Lobster Trap [The Boston Globe / Portland Press Herald]

A Climate of Change: Sea Level Rise [Maine Island Institute]