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Larval lobster (Homarus americanus) distribution and drift in the vicinity of the Gulf of Maine offshore banks and their probable origins

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Surveys for lobster larvae in offshore waters of the north-eastern Gulf of Maine in 1983, 1987 and 1989 confirm that local hatching occurs mainly at depths <100 m over the banks, including Georges and Browns Banks. Detailed studies in the vicinity of Georges Bank in late July of both 1987 and 1989 indicate that the first and second moult stages were located primarily over the bank whereas stages III and IV lobster were collected both over and off the bank. At times stage IV lobster were more abundant off the bank than over it. The condition of stage III and IV lobster, as measured by a lipid index, was better off than over Georges Bank in 1988 and 1989 indicating a possible physiological advantage to being off the bank. In addition, the higher surface temperatures off Georges Bank would shorten larval development time to settlement. To determine the probable hatch sites of stage IV lobster collected off of Browns Bank in 1983 and off of Georges in 1987 and 1989, a 3-D circulation model of the Gulf of Maine was used to simulate larval lobster drift backwards in time. In all cases, areas off Cape Cod, MA, and off Penobscot Bay, ME were suggested as the source of the larvae, although most of the larval trajectories never reached these near-shore waters that are well-known, larval hatching areas. The model-projected larval release times match most closely the observed inshore hatch off Massachusetts but model uncertainties mean that coastal Maine cannot be ruled out as a source. Georges Bank is also a potential source because the present model does not take into account short-term wind events, off-bank eddy transport or the possibility of directed off-bank larval swimming. Examination of weather records prior to and during our 1988 and 1989 sampling periods indicates that winds were not of sufficient intensity and duration to induce larval transport off Georges Bank. The shedding of eddies from the northern flank of Georges Bank into the Gulf of Maine are a relatively common phenomenon during summer but not enough is known about them to evaluate their contribution to possible cross-bank transport of lobster larvae. Directed larval swimming is another possible source for the stage IV lobster found near Georges Bank. Plankton distributions across the northern frontal zone of Georges Bank in 1988 were used as proxies for the scarce larval lobsters. The more surface distribution of the microplankton, in particular, supports the possibility that wind and eddy events may be important in the transport of stage III and IV lobsters off of Georges Bank. Further studies are needed to evaluate these possible additional sources of advanced stage lobster larvae found off of the offshore banks.

Keywords: Browns Bank; Georges Bank; Gulf of Maine; Homarus americanus; condition; distribution; drift; frontal zone; larval lobster; modelled drift

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada 2: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, PO Box 6000, 9860 West Saanich Road, Sidney, BC V8L 4B2, Canada 3: Mozartstr. 24, 18069 Rostock, Germany 4: Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4J1, Canada

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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