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Maine officials monitoring baby lobster count

HALLOWELL, Maine — The Maine lobster fishery is not in jeopardy of an immediate dramatic decline, Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher said, but he added that studies that show a dropoff in baby lobsters could forecast lower catches in coming years.

A University of Maine survey of 11 Gulf of Maine locations indicated that young lobsters have declined by more than half from their 2007 levels.

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That was cause for concern for fishermen, retailers, and state officials about a potential impending drop in catch, as lobsters, the biggest moneymaker in the state’s fishery, typically take about eight years to reach legal harvesting size.

Keliher told the Associated Press Monday that it is possible the lobster catch will drop at some point, but other metrics suggest the lobster population will be strong in coming years. The decline in baby lobsters warrants the state’s attention, he added.

‘‘The sky is not falling,’’ Keliher said. ‘‘It means we need to keep an eye.’’

The state has used the University of Maine’s data since the late 1980s, but it is not the state’s only metric for determining the health of its lobster fishery. The state also works with fishermen to set up special lobster traps in 138 locations off the Maine coast to gather survey data.

The survey, conducted since 2006, showed record lobster levels in 2012, and the totals for 2013 were close behind them, state data show.

The trap survey mostly captures immature lobsters too small to be harvested, said Kathleen Reardon, who coordinates the program.

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