You'll shell out again for lobster

After last year's record catch and bargain prices, lobster lovers could soon be dipping deeper into their wallets because the population of the tasty crustaceans has started to drop off.

Researchers report the number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine - home to some 85 percent of the nation's catch - has declined by more than half of their 2007 levels, potentially bad news in the near future because the shellfish typically take about eight years to reach the legal harvesting size.

But what may be bad news for consumers could be good news for fisherman who struggled to make a living last year when prices dropped dramatically due to a glut.

Meanwhile, here in Connecticut scientists continue to study what has caused the lobster population to dwindle dramatically in Long Island Sound, with more water sampling scheduled in June. Many blame greater use of insecticides to combat West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitoes, as well as shellfish diseases and rising water temperatures. Last year officials ordered the first-ever seasonal shutdown of the Sound's lobster fishery in an effort to rebuild the population.

While most studies gauge the impact on consumers and fishermen's incomes, at least one organization has other concerns. A Humane Society in Ontario, Canada, made headlines earlier this month when it came to the aid of an animal found inside a cardboard box that had been left in a restaurant parking lot. The animal in question: a lobster.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is using the incident to promote its mission, and if you read the results of a PETA investigation inside a crustacean slaughterhouse in Maine you might very well lose your appetite for lobsters, crabs and other marine life that wind up on dinner tables.

Regardless of how you feel about lobsters, though, we hope researchers get to the bottom of what is causing their decline.

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