Global warming is causing lobsters to become cannibals
The waters off the coast of Maine are overflowing with lobsters, which, according to Mother Jones, is actually a bad thing.
Two main factors are causing the lobster population to explode. First, rising sea temperatures brought on by global warming are encouraging the crustaceans to grow quicker and reproduce more often, says Noah Oppenheim, a marine biology graduate student at the University of Maine.
Second, Oppenheim tells Mother Jones, over-fishing has rid the ocean of the lobster's natural enemies, which include cod, herring, and other fish.
The result is a lot of lobsters that have nothing eat — which is why, as footage taken by Oppenheim shows, they have resorted to cannibalism.
Oppenheim tells Mother Jones that young lobsters left under his camera overnight are 90 percent more likely to be eaten by another lobster than by any other sea creature. That's a massive change from the 1990s, when similar experiments found that fish were usually the ones chowing down on lobsters.
This glut of lobsters is bad for just about everyone. As the lobster haul hit an all-time high of 126 million pounds in 2012, prices fell to $2.72 per pound, the lowest since the Great Depression. (Offshore water temperatures in Maine, coincidentally, have hit a century high). That is making it harder for Maine lobstermen to make ends meet.
For any seafood lover hoping this means buckets of cheap lobster, you might want hold off on melting that butter. That's because the low prices lobstermen get for their catch doesn't necessarily translate to low prices for the consumer.
Ideally for the consumer, lobster could be shipped across the country like chicken, meaning you could find lobster as readily in Iowa as on the coast of Maine. But as Slate's Matthew Yglesias explained last year, the fact that we like our lobsters fresh means they have to be transported alive in buckets of water, an expensive process that keeps the market clustered in the Northeast.
Ultimately, higher ocean temperatures could be bad for the creatures themselves. While they are in abundance now, New England saw a similar explosion in population in the 1990s, only to watch it crash. Warmer waters could also be a factor in lobster shell disease, a bacterial infection that can kill the animal.
Right now, lobstermen in Maine can only hope that resurgent predators or cooler waters will return to keep the population in check.
"It's a lot more work for the same money," Lyford Alley complains to Mother Jones. "We're just barely making it."