Researchers tackle lobster shell disease mystery

Lobster shell disease poses a tricky problem for researchers–it’s visible, it’s ugly, but no one knows where it came from, whether it kills lobsters, or whether it is harmful to humans. Still, since no one wants to take a chance on a lobster with a shell that appears to be rotting, it is a big problem for the lobster fishing industry, and with an estimated 35 percent of Rhode Island lobsters affected, local researchers are trying to figure out why, in order to manage the causes and consequences.

While bacteria feed on the shells of lobsters that have the disease, no one is quite sure where the bacteria come from, or why some lobsters are susceptible. Rhode Island Sea Grant is holding a symposium to present what researchers do know, or suspect. Roxanna Smolowitz, veterinarian at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., will present an update on shell disease research, and Hans Laufer, University of Connecticut professor emeritus, will present a theory that endocrine disruptors-chemicals that mimic hormones in the body and can cause biological changes-which come from human-created substances, may be partly to blame.

“We’re really still questioning whether each year is going to be different,” says Kathleen Castro, Rhode Island Sea Grant Sustainable Fisheries Extension Program director. “We’re inviting fishermen, managers, researchers, and the public to come learn about the disease and discuss steps to deal with it.”

The Rhode Island Lobster Health Symposium will be held on February 16, 2005, at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute Auditorium, Narragansett, R.I., from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact Kathleen Castro at (401) 874-5063. The symposium agenda is available on-line at

Rhode Island Sea Grant is a federal-state partnership, based at the University of Rhode Island, that promotes the conservation and sustainable development of marine resources for the public benefit through research, outreach, and education.

From Sea Grant

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