Climate change is decimating Maine's lobster population

Lobster From Maine: Flavor and Fishing Rules

Seafood addicts don't need yet another reason to loathe climate change, and now a pair of reports warn that saltwater diseases are just loving these warmer ocean temperatures, and unfortunately at least one has a taste for lobster.

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The new studies suggest sea stars have it the worst — they're being plagued by a wasting disease that morphs them into "goo" within days — and divers in the San Juan Islands who used to find dozens on every dive now don't see any. Lobsters, though, are apparently contracting a shell disease that gives them lesions and, at best, makes them unfit for eating.

See photos of Maine's lobster trade:

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Climate change is decimating Maine's lobster population
PORTLAND, ME - SEPTEMBER 29: Small lobsters sit in a crate waiting to be unloaded at Free Range Fish & Lobster on Commercial Street in Portland, Tuesday, September 29, 2015. Much like most of the lobster season, it was busy Tuesday afternoon inside the business, with many customers placing orders for the crustaceans. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
STONINGTON, ME - SEPTEMBER 5: Genevieive McDonald replaces a bait bag in a lobster trap while fishing off the coast of Stonington on September 5, 2015. In 2012, McDonald saw dozens of longfin squid near Isle au Haut. The squid like warmer water and are rarely seen in the Gulf of Maine but there were numerous sightings of the squid during the 'ocean heat wave' of 2012. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
HARPSWELL, ME - AUGUST 31: Marissa McMahan holds a juvenile lobster in Lowell's Cove in Harpswell on Monday, August 31, 2015. While lobstering with father off Georgetown in 2012, McMahan discovered black sea bass in the lobster traps, a fish normally found in warmer mid-Atlantic waters. McMahan is now a doctoral student at Northeastern University doing her dissertation on how black sea bass are spreading and interacting with with lobster and other native species. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
OGUNQUIT, ME - AUGUST 20: Cam Hall puts a bag of cooked lobsters into a cooler mounted on the back of a scooter at the Perkins Cove Lobster Pound in Ogunquit on Thursday, August 20, 2015. The lobster pound uses coolers to help keep the cooked lobsters warm during delivery. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
OGUNQUIT, ME - AUGUST 20: Josh Audet paddles out to his lobster boat Karmel in Perkins Cove in Ogunquit before dawn on Thursday, August 20, 2015. Audet works long days, starting lobstering before dawn and often working until 9 p.m. at the Perkins Cove Lobster Pound, his business that offers delivery of cooked lobster and clams. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - JULY 22: Bill Coppersmith of Windham holds a normal looking lobster next to a bright orange lobster that he caught while fishing in deepwater canyons in the Gulf of Maine with his steersman Brian Skillings Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Coppersmith said he has never seen an orange lobster like this in many years of fishing, though he did snag a white lobster in 1997. Coppersmith named him 'Captain Eli' after his four-year old grandson. The lobster will be kept at the Fisherman's Catch in Raymond, run by Coppersmith's son, Billy Jr., for about a month before Coppersmith brings him back out to deep water and releases him back into the ocean. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - March 5: A lobster at Harbor Fish Market in Portland Thursday, March 5, 2015. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster: Either way you want 'em. (Steve Dolinsky/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
CAPE ELIZABETH, ME - JUNE 29: Lobster is featured at several local restaurants at the Taste of Maine event held at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth Sunday, June 29, 2014. (Photo by Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
A gull swims back to shore to feast on a lobster body at Pine Point in Scarborough on Saturday, July 27, 2013. (Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

The future isn't rosy for either creature. Per the Washington Post:

The outbreaks are so lethal, according to a biologist involved in both studies, that at least one species of sea star has vanished off the coasts of Washington and British Columbia and the lobster fishery, already decimated in southern New England, will likely be threatened in Maine.

Scientists first observed the disease affecting lobsters in the '90s, off the Long Island Sound and elsewhere along the East Coast. It seems warmer waters hastened its spread, with females especially at risk because they molt more often and carry their shells longer.

"Shell disease has devastated the southern New England lobster fishery, and now with warming, it's led to a situation where the Maine lobster industry may be at risk," one of the study's co-authors warns.

Scientists aren't sure what actions to recommend taking, since about all they can do at this point is try not to make things worse, but they say they'll reassess the situation in the spring. If it's bad enough, don't be surprised to see calls in New England to further curb water pollution, boat traffic, and other modes of transmission in affected areas.

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