11th International Conference &
Workshop on Lobster a First for Maine


group photo

Participants in the 11th International Conference & Workshop on Lobster across from the event site in Portland, Maine. The 215 registered scientists, resource managers and fishermen came from 15 countries. 11th ICWL photo

Portland, ME—The single largest conference on lobster science, hosted by the University of Maine and Boston University, was held in Portland, Maine, June 5-9. The attendance and its international representation was a statement of the importance of lobster beyond the border of one of it most renowned and valuable habitats in the Gulf of Maine. “Lobsters are the focus of very valuable fisheries, and mainly because of this are among the most researched animals on earth,” wrote Bruce Phillips in the New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research.

In addition to keynote addresses by Senator Angus King and marine scientists Bob Steneck and Carl Wilson, there were 154 topics discussed in presentations over the five-day event. Presentations ranged from changes in the lobster molt to the impact of high-speed haulers on lobster mortality. The presentations were each 15 minutes long with no break between and they ran all day in two halls. Attendees represented fifteen countries including the U.S., Cuba and the Australian island state of Tasmania and the Balearic Islands in Spain. Thirteen U.S. states and many regions of individual countries were represented. There were 215 scientists and members of the fishing industry registered.

The Industry Day of the conference, led by leaders in the fishing industry, offered an opportunity for lobstermen, lobster dealers and distributors, biologists, and managers from around the world to get together to talk about how lobster populations are responding to our changing oceans. According to conference organizers, sharing of ideas among these groups helps pinpoint new areas of research, encourage collaborations between scientists and fishermen who are out on the sea every day. It can also help managers better respond to the needs of lobster populations and those reliant on such populations for a living.

Thus far ICWL conferences have been held in the following regions:

Oceania/Tropical Pacific (Perth & Hobart, Australia & Queenstown, New Zealand):1977, 1997 & 2004 Canada (St. Andrews & Charlottetown): 1985 & 2007 Caribbean Region (Cuba & Cancun, Mexico): 1990 & 2014 USA (Florida & Maine): 2000 & 2017 Asia (Sanriku, Japan): 1993 Europe (Bergen, Norway): 2011

The ICWL began in 1977 when a group of 35 lobster biologists from 6 countries met in Perth, Australia, to discuss and compare their work on lobster ecology, physiology, and early stock management protocols. They also sought to find common themes among the different species that were commercially fished. This conference resulted in the first two-volume scientific monograph focused on lobsters (The Biology and Management of Lobsters, Vol. I & II, edited by J.S. Cobb and B.F. Phillips, 1980) since Francis Hobart Herrick’s monograph on clawed lobsters in 1895. That two-volume monograph consisted of 18 peer-reviewed chapters that discussed what was known and identified many “holes” in knowledge about the biology of various species. That spurred much more research on understanding the connection between adult stocks and larval distribution, larval distribution and post-larval settlement areas, and the ecology and growth of the benthic life stages. This understanding would lead to models tying settlement to subsequent recruitment into adult populations that are fished commercially.

Eight years passed between the 1st ICWL and the 2nd, but now these conferences are held every 3 to 5 years. Participation has risen with approximately 200 lobster biologists, oceanographers, lobstermen, and fisheries managers coming from 20 countries. Subsequent ICWLs have been held in Saint Andrews, Canada (1985); La Habana, Cuba (1990); Sanriku, Japan (1993); Queenstown, New Zealand (1997); Key West, Florida USA (2000); Hobart, Australia (2004); Charlottetown, PEI, Canada (2007); Bergen, Norway (2011); and Cancun, Mexico (2014).

Each of these conferences had resulted in published scientific proceedings in peer-reviewed journals. To provide for continual communication between conferences, the group also created The Lobster Newsletter that is sent electronically one to two times a year to anyone interested in lobster biology, culture, and management.

The tangible impact of these conferences is in the network of international collaborations they spawn and the resulting peer-reviewed publications in the conference proceedings and book chapters. There is synergy in the exchange of ideas and knowledge amongst biologists, managers, fishermen, and dealers from different parts of the world facing the challenges of a changing environment and a global economy.

The Western Rock Lobster Council, Inc. has requested to be the host of the 12th ICWL in 2020. This means that the ICWL will be returning to Perth, Australia — the location of the 1st ICWL.