In conversation with author Bill deBuys
Maine lobstermen have happened upon a bonanza along their rugged, picturesque coast. For the past five years, the lobster population along the coast of Maine has boomed, resulting in a lobster harvest six times the size of the record catch from the 1980s―an event unheard of in fisheries. In a detective story, scientists and fishermen explore various theories for the glut. Leading contenders are a sudden lack of predators and a recent wedge of warming waters, which may disrupt the reproductive cycle, a consequence of climate change.
Christopher White's The Last Lobster follows three lobster captains―Frank, Jason, and Julie (one the few female skippers in Maine)―as they haul and set thousands of traps. Unexpectedly, boom may turn to bust, as the captains must fight a warming ocean, volatile prices, and rough weather to keep their livelihood afloat. The three captains work longer hours, trying to make up in volume what they lack in price. As a result, there are 3 million lobster traps on the bottom of the Gulf of Maine, while Frank, Jason, and others call for a reduction of traps. This may in boost prices. The Maine lobstering towns are among the first American communities to confront global warming, and the survival of the Maine Coast depends upon their efforts.
It may be an uphill battle to create a sustainable catch as high temperatures are already displacing lobsters northward toward Canadian waters―out of reach of American fishermen. The last lobster may be just ahead.
About the Author:
Christopher White has written numerous books, including Skipjack: The Story of America’s Last Sailing Oystermen and The Melting World: A Journey Across America’s Vanishing Glaciers. His articles have appeared in Audubon, The Baltimore Sun, The New Mexican, National Geographic, and Exploration. He grew up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
The New York Times Book Review October 7, 2018
"Christopher White, an environmentalist and science writer, provides a guided tour of the plucky subculture of Maine lobstermen, embedding with three Stonington-based lobster captains: Frank Gotwals, his stepson Jason, and Julie Eaton, one of the still-rare female
skippers, as they tend their traps, hang out at home, attend local events, and otherwise go about their days. As he describes life in a small lobster village, White also examines what could be called the lobster lotto. Maine lobstermen have landed colossal catches in recent years, six times those of three decades ago. (This isn’t completely good news, since it’s driven down the price of lobster.) Though a definitive explanation for these giant hauls proves elusive, marine biologists point to likely causes: the diminished number of lobster predators and climate change, which has warmed the waters. But lobsters are coldwater animals and while a slight uptick in ocean temperatures has spurred their growth, further increases will likely drive them farther north. It’s not out of the question that the Maine lobster industry will end up somewhere off the Canadian coast. An industry-shattering heat wave could be just around the corner."
The Wall Street Journal July 20, 2018
“White’s ambitious book—as stuffed with facts as a Lobster Thermidor is stuffed with claw meat and cream—also addresses climate change, supply and demand, and international trade. It offers vivid, well-observed portraits of people directly affected by lobster’s recent boom-and-bust cycles. A journalistic Ahab, White tenaciously chases his story over the course of four years. His is not the first time the author has written about the dire effects of climate change. But in “The Last Lobster,” he addresses the impact of the environment on one of America’s signature fisheries with a greater sense of urgency."