Dozens of lobstermen traveled to Warwick, R.I., for a meeting of the board that advises the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on lobster rules.
The board is considering a five-year moratorium on lobstering south of Cape Cod to North Carolina to deal with a population crash. The region supplies about 7 percent of the Northeast's total catch. A final decision is expected later this year.
Nick Crismale of the Connecticut Lobsterman's Association says a moratorium would do "almost biblical" damage to the industry. Massachusetts lobsterman Albert Rosinha urged the committee to use conservation measures.
The vast majority of lobsters caught in the Northeast are trapped north of Cape Cod to Maine, an area that accounts for about 93 percent of the catch and has recently grappled with the opposite problem - a glut of lobsters on the market.
The southern New England region includes areas south of Cape Cod down to North Carolina, with the bulk of the inshore lobster catch between Massachusetts and Long Island Sound.
The area once accounted for as much as a quarter of the Northeast's total catch, compared to just 5 to 7 percent today. The population peaked in the late 1990s at an estimated 35 million lobsters, but the stock plummeted to around 13 million by 2003. Scientists have never pinpointed a cause for the crash, but possible culprits include overfishing, a 1996 Rhode Island oil spill, a disfiguring shell disease and pesticide-polluted run off.
Since 2003, recovery has been slow, with about 15 million lobsters currently estimated in southern New England, well below the 25 million target and a sliver of the 116 million estimated to live in the Gulf of Maine.
A report offers some explanations why the stock hasn't rebounded, including warming waters that more frequently break 68 degrees, a temperature that can retard a lobster's growth and spawning. It can also force lobsters into deeper, colder waters, where they are more susceptible to predators and their larvae are less likely to settle in suitable spots to grow.
The report also cited fishing pressure, though it said lobstermen aren't overfishing the area. But the report said the local catch hasn't declined as steeply as the lobster population.