NOAA 99-R106
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas


A new private/public partnership to restore damaged marine habitat and increase lobster populations in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay may prove to be an important model in fostering sound fisheries resource restoration projects across the nation, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

The partnership includes the Red Lobster restaurant chain, NOAA's Restoration Center, the Rhode Island Sea Grant program, and the University of Rhode Island.

"We look forward to working with the Darden Group, owners of the Red Lobster restaurant chain," said Terry Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. "Developing partnerships with the private sector and working directly with the local community to restore marine fish habitat enables NOAA to accomplish significant habitat restoration in a cost-effective manner."

The agency's first restoration project with Red Lobster will build upon an existing project that focuses on increasing lobster populations in Narragansett Bay. Artificial reefs built by the National Marine Fisheries Service, with settlement money from the 1989 World Prodigy oil spill, are being used to create a protective habitat for lobsters in a small area of the West Passage. Using a $30,000 award from Red Lobster, NOAA's Damage Assessment and Restoration Program will complete seeding of the artificial reefs with juvenile lobsters and produce educational materials.

"Darden Restaurants is committed to sustaining all marine resources while making sure people everywhere have adequate access to vital protein sources in the twenty-first century," said Dick Monroe, vice president of environmental relations for Darden Restaurants. "This is the kind of project of which we are and will continue to be supportive."

The juvenile lobsters, raised by the University of Rhode Island, will be tagged with microscopic tags to allow biologists to monitor the reefs. This will provide information to determine how well the hatchery lobsters survive and grow, and if stocking larval lobsters can increase local populations. With a little cooperation from nature, lobstermen will be able to start setting their traps on the reefs in about five years.

"If stock enhancement works, it may allow us to build up stocks for food without relying only on stringent fishery management measures," said Kathleen Castro, Rhode Island Sea Grant Marine Extension co-leader and principal investigator for the lobster seeding project. "This support from the Darden Group will supplement other grants to help us evaluate the success or failure of habitat enhancement and stock enhancement for lobsters."

The World Prodigy spill killed hundreds of adult lobsters and crabs and affected future lobster and shellfish catches through destruction of eggs and larvae when approximately 290,000 gallons of home heating oil spilled into Narragansett Bay. By creating new habitat for lobsters and seeding them with hatchery reared lobsters, the partnership is restoring resources harmed by the oil spill. This approach to increasing lobster populations may serve as a model that can be used at other restoration sites in the future.