How climate change is fueling a 'Lobster War' between Maine and Canada
A new documentary explores the conflict and the lobster industry's bleak future.
Climate change, increased lobster populations and a centuries-old land dispute have created a perfect storm, fanning the flames of war between lobster fishermen in Maine and Canada. Lobster War, a new documentary by award-winning Boston Globe reporter David Abel and filmmaker Andy Laub, explores how this conflict came about and why it may only get worse as temperatures continue to rise across the world.
The film, which premieres in Massachusetts at the closing night of the GlobeDocs Film Festival on Sunday, takes a deep dive into the tensions caused by 277 square miles of disputed waters – dubbed the gray zone – off the coast of Machias Seal Island. While the issue over whether the strip of land belongs to Maine or New Brunswick dates back to the Revolutionary War, its ambiguous status has led to spats in recent years between American and Canadian lobster fishermen working in the gray zone.
Abel tells Metro that incidents of sabotage and threats of violence have seemingly increased as more and more fishermen from both sides jockey for the perfect fishing spots in hopes of capitalizing on the region’s rising lobster populations.
“The concern is, we don’t really know, and it could get worse as more people seek to fish in that area,” says Abel. “It doesn’t seem like either side, either the Canadian government or the American government, really wants to pursue a political solution to this.“
The land dispute wasn’t a major issue for fishermen in the area until fairly recently, as the Gulf of Maine’s rising temperatures have led to a major growth in the lobster population. According to Lobster War, Maine caught a record 132 million pounds of lobster in 2016 – double the amount from 2000 – worth more than half a billion dollars, which was nearly three times the value of the 2000 haul. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Maine has warmed faster than 99 percent of the global ocean area over the last decade.
While the lobster boom is a “good news story” for now, Abel notes that it's very likely that the continued effects of climate change and rising sea temperatures will eventually lead to a decline in the crustacean’s population in the region. Lobster fisheries south of Cape Cod have already experienced a devastating collapse, as the catch in the area has fallen by 90 percent, costing hundreds of lobstermen their jobs.
“The problem is that the warming temperatures are increasing and unlikely to be reversed, especially given our pulling out of the Paris climate accord and lack of any national effort to try to reduce climate change,” Abel explains. “If the lobster population north of Portland, Maine, crashes – and some people fear it could – that could be incredibly devastating for the economy of Maine, which has become more and more reliant on the lobster fishery.”
“Climate change is not some distant, abstract threat,” the Lobster War filmmaker adds. “It’s having a real impact on our lives today. This film, in my eyes, captures how the rapid warming we’re seeing in our region is playing a role in exacerbating a conflict and potentially threatening one of its greatest resources.”