In this May 21, 2012, file photo, Scott Beede returns an undersized lobster while checking traps off Mount Desert, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Mature female lobsters that live in Maine’s coastal waters have been shrinking in size over the last three decades, the Ellsworth American reported.

Jessica Waller, a lobster scientist at the state’s Department of Marine Resources, told the Ellsworth newspaper that she has studied over 1,200 female lobsters from Maine’s coast. In her research she found that the size of mature lobsters has shrunk by around a quarter of an inch in length since the 1990’s.

Waller said that there are a number of factors that could alter the development and growth of lobsters.

“There is a body of research to show that the temperature has a significant impact on the growth pattern of lobsters, and the development of reproductive tissues [like ovaries], with higher temperatures yielding faster development,” Waller told the Ellsworth American. “In addition, it’s been well documented that lobsters that experience areas with relatively warm temperatures reach maturity and produce eggs at a smaller size than females in cooler areas.”

A Canadian study showed that smaller females are more likely to produce eggs that are smaller, and provide fewer nutrients for larvae, according to the newspaper. The study also showed evidence that the smaller lobsters were producing fewer eggs.

David Fields, a senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay told the Ellsworth paper that a team of scientists is investigating if lobster eggs have been affected by temperature, as well as working to understand how larval stages of lobster growth could be affected.

The Bigelow Laboratory found that larvae development was not significantly impacted by warming water temperatures. However increased acidity of the water, which is a consequence of climate change, did seem to affect larval development.

“Stressors on an organism have the ability to compound into something that makes it really hard to grow through all the developmental stages to get to a full-grown lobster,” Maura Niemisto, a Bigelow Laboratory associate, told the newspaper.

The Bigelow Laboratory team added that it is continuing to investigate the developmental stages of lobster larvae, how larvae interact with their environments and the impact that changing climate will have on lobsters in the future.

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.