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Research Document - 2016/025

Characterization of the American lobster (Homarus americanus) habitat and fishery to inform marine spatial planning in Malpeque Bay, PEI

By M. Ouellette, M. Comeau, A. LeBlanc and B. Comeau


Shellfish aquaculture has become an important economic activity of coastal communities in Atlantic Canada. However, several issues are still inducing significant strain on this industry, such as social acceptance and spatial usage conflicts. These are complex issues that are part of the challenges in coastal zone management. In 2013, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans identified the need to develop a detailed spatial plan to accommodate the potential increase in aquaculture acreage in Malpeque Bay, PEI. One of the considerations in this process is to evaluate how much expansion could occur without affecting the productivity of commercial, recreational or Aboriginal species, such as the American lobster (Homarus americanus). This project investigated the potential overlaps between proposed shellfish aquaculture sites with potential productive benthic habitats and the lobster fishing activities. Given that these areas are relatively large, a tiered approach strategy was used to collect information at various scales and spatial coverage, and to efficiently identify zones of interest. The first step was to analyze data from the at-sea sampling program to evaluate lobster catches and fishing efforts at a bay scale level. The second and third steps were to conduct multi-beam acoustic seabed surveys and SCUBA transects surveys for habitat characterization. Results from this study showed that, based on catch per unit effort and seabed characteristics, the south block and the northern portion of the west block of the proposed sites expansion scenario are considered poor habitat for lobster, serving as a transitory zone. However, the southern portion of the west block is considered prime lobster ground serving as residence habitat for all benthic life stages and size groups of lobster. This study provides relevant information to the current marine spatial planning process in addressing some concerns from the lobster fishing industry. It provides objective observations and measurements, which should facilitate effective and transparent internal and external consultations.

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