Small Area Added to Penobscot Closure in Response to Monitoring Program

June 21, 2016 - The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) announced today that it will add a small area to the current lobster and crab fishing closure in the mouth of the Penobscot River in response to data gathered during 2014. The area will be added through rulemaking that takes effect Tuesday, June 21, 2016 and will extend the closure’s southern boundary to between Squaw Point on Cape Jellison and Perkins Point in Castine.

In February 2014, the department closed an area in the river that extends from Wilson Point across to Fort Point and north into the river after receiving information from a federal court-ordered study, the Penobscot River Mercury Study (PRMS). The area within the 2014 closure where lobster harvesting had occurred is approximately 7 square miles out of more than 14,000 square miles in the Gulf of Maine where lobsters are harvested. The additional area adds nearly 5.5 square miles to the closure.

To confirm the methodology and results in the PRMS and to determine whether or not to change the closure boundaries, the Department conducted monitoring in 2014 and 2015 of lobster and crab in the closed area and beyond it. Results of 2015 monitoring work are not yet available but will be evaluated as soon as they are.

Data from DMR monitoring work done in 2014 are from areas inside the original closure, including Odom Ledge, South Verona, and Fort Point, and three areas outside the closure, including Cape Jellison, Turner Point, and Sears Island. All areas had been previously sampled except Cape Jellison. Results from the PRMS and 2014 DMR sampling were similar in that mercury concentrations in lobster tail and claw tissue decreased geographically from north to south.

Levels in lobsters sampled from the Cape Jellison shore, an area immediately adjacent to the closure, and the shore adjacent to Turner Point, were lower than most of the other areas sampled in 2014, yet elevated enough to warrant including in the closure.

On average, tails in 40 legal size lobsters harvested for testing during 2014 along the south eastern shore of Cape Jellison contained 292.7 nanograms (a billionth of a gram) of mercury per gram of tissue (ng/g) while claws contained much less, at 139.2 ng/g. According to the FDA, canned white tuna contains 350 ng/g of mercury.

In addition to lobsters, crabs were also included in the original closure and evaluated in the on-going monitoring work. “Despite insufficient data on crabs in the PRMS study, we wanted to include them in the initial closure as a precaution,” said Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. “While the 2014 study does not show levels of concern for crabs, the closure will continue to include crabs because of enforcement challenges and to provide time to continue to analyze the data.

“We are adding this very small, targeted area to the closure so consumers can continue to be confident in the exceptional quality of Maine lobster,” said Commissioner Keliher.

The department will host a public meeting to discuss the closure at the Bucksport Area Performing Arts Center at the Bucksport Middle School at 100 Miles Lane in Bucksport on Tuesday, June 28 at 5:30 p.m.

A Frequently Asked Question document, a chart of the closure, and a copy of the report titled “Penobscot River Estuary Lobster and Rock Crab Mercury Study” can be found below.