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In 1996, lobsters in Rhode Island inshore areas started to appear with what we now know as epizootic shell disease (ESD), a characteristic bacterial degradation of the external shell. By 1998, prevalence levels were more than 20% overall, with almost 80% of ovigerous females showing signs of infection. Rapidly declining abundance, landings, and young-of-the-year surveys in the Rhode Island area caused great concern for lobstermen, biologists, and managers about the health of the southern New England stock. Then, in 1999, lobster health was brought to the forefront when the Long Island Sound (LIS) was declared a "commercial fishery failure" resulting from a resource disaster after a large mortality event occurred affecting American lobsters, Homarus americanus, and devastating the commercial industry. A total of $13.9 million in federal disaster relief funds were authorized to provide economic assistance to the commercial lobstermen and to support a comprehensive investigation of the lobster mortality event. This LIS Health Initiative culminated in a journal publication with 24 new papers, some addressing the appearance of a newly reported disease, ESD. Since the LIS event, the incidence of ESD has increased to highs of 35% of lobsters being affected in some areas, and reports of the disease moving northward through Massachusetts. New funds were allocated for $3 million to continue work on ESD health issues and to support state trawl surveys in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and ventless trap surveys in Rhode Island and Maine. The funds were obtained by Senators Jack Reed (RI) and Olympia Snowe (ME), and were passed from NOAA Fisheries to the University of Rhode Island through a proposal process. An ad hoc steering committee was established to create a synthesis document, priority topics, and a vision for the New England Lobster Health Initiative (NELHI) consisting of Roxanna Smolowitz (Marine Biological Laboratories (MBL)), Sylvain De Guise (Connecticut Sea Grant (CTSG)), Paul Anderson (Maine Sea Grant), Kathy Castro (Rhode Island Sea Grant), Mark Gibson (Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)), Nancy Langrall (Senator Reed policy director), Ben Terry (URI student), Terry Smith (National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)), Jack Mattice (New York Sea Grant (NYSG)), Mike Marchetti (Rhode Island Lobstermen's Association (RILA)), Barry Costa Pierce (Rhode Island Sea Grant), and Stan Cobb (University of Rhode Island (URI)).

Rhode Island Sea Grant was contracted to run the proposal process. Nine new research projects were selected, but were combined to produce 15 new studies. Two state agencies and more than 35 scientists and graduate students from the following institutions were involved in this initiative: Boston University; Carl yon Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany; George Mason University; Georgia Aquarium; Ludwig Maximillian University, Germany; Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR); MBL; New England Aquarium; NYSG; RIDEM; Roger Williams University; Stony Brook University; University of Connecticut; University of Louisiana; University of Massachusetts; University of Maine; Virginia Institute of Marine Science; and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

These projects were organized under the host pathogen-environment model. Three groups used different techniques and approaches to look at the microbiology on lobster shells to identify the pathogen causing shell disease, and to determine whether affected lobsters have suppressed immune systems.

One project examined whether different lobster populations have different susceptibility to the disease, and whether there is a relationship between that susceptibility and genetic and/or behavioral differences between the populations. Four projects examined how environmental stressors--such as increasing water temperature or environmental contaminants--affect lobsters, whether through interfering with shell formation or hardening or impacting lobster genetic expression. And one project developed new techniques to compare shells of healthy and sick lobsters.

An executive committee was formed to supervise the progress of these research projects and aid in the communication of sensitive material to the public. Members included Bill Adler (Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association (MLA)), Paul Anderson (Maine Sea Grant), J. Stanley Cobb (retired URI), Barry Costa-Pierce (Rhode Island Sea Grant), Lanny Dellinger (RILA), Mark Gibson (RIDEM), Marta Gomez-Chiarri (URI), Don Landers (Millstone Environmental Laboratory of Dominion Resource Services, Inc. (Millstone Environmental Laboratory)), Patrice McCarron (Maine Lobstermen's Association), Richard Rhodes (URI), Terry Smith (NMFS), George Williams (Darden), and Carl Wilson (Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR)). Special recognition goes out to Harlyn Halvorson, whose untimely passing did not allow him to see this research to its completion. Although not a lobster specialist, his concern over the health of the oceans made him acutely aware of the plight of the lobster, and this concern gave him the foresight to organize a meeting in 2005 to think proactively about how best to understand shell disease. His forward and insightful thinking and quick wit will be missed by all. We especially wish to thank Nancy Balcom (CTSG) and Antoinette Clemetson (NYSG) for bringing their experience and perspectives from the LIS study to assist in this endeavor. It ensured a continuity of purpose from Congress through the individual states to address this overwhelming new set of circumstances and hurdles on managing their important lobster fisheries. During the 5-y project, 8 meetings were held to document progress, encouraging researchers to share results with the executive committee and each other, and to focus on the whole picture rather than just their part. The emergence of the "100 Lobster" Project resulted from this more holistic approach in which microbiologists, chemists, geneticists, pathologists, lobster biologists, endocrinologists, physiologists, fishermen, and managers could put their collective heads together. The synthesis document in this journal captures this synergism. The amount of knowledge gained from this initiative far exceeds the individual projects and adds much new information about the lobster, the disease, and the environment in which they live.

We wish to thank all of the agencies in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine that assisted with lobster collection. In New York, support was provided by Kim McKown, John Maniscalco, and Carl LoBue of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. From Connecticut, we are grateful to Don Landers at Millstone Environmental Laboratory and Penelope Howell at the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. At the RI DEM, support was provided by Tom Angell and Dan Costa. From the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, we thank Bruce Estrella, Robert Glenn, Bro Cote, and Mike Syslo. We also thank Carl Wilson, Melissa Smith, and Kathleen Reardon (DMR). We gratefully acknowledge the administrative support from Kelly Taranto and Sarah Pike from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and Laura Skrobe from the URI Fisheries Center. There are also several inshore and offshore fishermen from the state of Rhode Island, including Steve Seymour, Lanny Dellinger, and David Spencer, who were instrumental in providing lobster samples for this research.

Interim documents were produced with the help of Monica Allard-Cox from Rhode Island Sea Grant who produced the midproject report and maintained the pages on the Sea Grant website. At the end of the research projects, a 2-day public forum titled New Approaches to Understanding Emerging New Diseases: From Science to Management was held on August 10 and 11, 2010, as the 9th Annual Ronald C. Baird Sea Grant Science Symposium at the University of Rhode Island. We thank Rhode Island Sea Grant and especially Dr. Barry Costa-Pierce and Alan Desbonnet for providing oversight and suggestions for the symposium content and structure, and for securing additional funding.

A special subgroup remained as the editing committee for the production of the journal publication herein. This included Dr. Kathleen Castro (URI Fisheries), Dr. J. Stanley Cobb (retired URI), Dr. Marta Gomez-Chiarri (URI-Veterinary Sciences), and Dr. Michael Tlusty from New England Aquarium. Barbara Somers and Laura Skrobe from URI Fisheries Center provided countless hours of logistical and editing support. A special thanks to this group for the endless hours reading and rereading the manuscripts, and correcting the small glitches.

We wish to thank the National Shellfisheries Association for accepting this compendium of papers as a contribution to a special issue in its journal series. We thank all the authors who submitted manuscripts for publication in this special issue of the Journal of Shellfish Research. We also acknowledge the anonymous volunteer reviewers whose efforts greatly assisted the writers in producing their manuscripts.

We would like to thank Darden Restaurants for their support for the annual workshops that were held in order to present ongoing research and results from the investigators associated with the project.

This work was supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service as the New England Lobster Research Initiative: Lobster Shell Disease under NOAA grant NA06NMF4720100 to the University of Rhode Island Fisheries Center. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or any of its subagencies. The U.S. government is authorized to produce and distribute reprints for government purposes, notwithstanding any copyright notation that may appear hereon.

DOI: 10.2983/035.031.0201


URI Fisheries Center


URI, retired


URI, Veterinary Sciences


New England Aquarium
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Author:Castro, Kathleen; Cobb, J. Stanley; Gomez-Chiarri, Marta; Tlusty, Michael
Publication:Journal of Shellfish Research
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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