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Tiny Fitness Trackers Are Helping Lobster Survive in the Supply Chain

August 23, 2021 • Zachary Amos


The Maine lobster industry is the largest in the nation, with the state supplying a majority of this ocean delicacy for the entire United States. People flock to Maine to have their own taste of the freshly harvested seafood favorite. Just two years ago, the state made nearly $500 million off lobster alone, but the lobster supply chain must improve.

Unfortunately, not all live-caught lobster survive the harvesting and shipping processes. That’s why researchers from the University of Maine Lobster Institute are developing innovative technologies to reduce the amount of lobster that dies from trap to customer. These tiny fitness trackers are helping lobster survive in the supply chain, making the industry more sustainable.

The Lobster “Shrink”

Lobster deaths that occur when they’re on the journey from the trap to a plate are known as “shrink.” This has been an issue in the industry for years. It’s detrimental to the fishermen who trap the lobster, but it’s also harmful to the United States economy.

For each 1 percent of shrinkage, there’s about a $5 million loss. That’s a considerable amount for one industry, both economically and environmentally. Although scientists and researchers are trying to reduce shrinkage, it’s been challenging because there’s not much data about shrink overall. The main question people have is where in the supply chain the lobsters are dying.

When nearly 3 billion people depend on seafood as part of their daily diets, limiting this shrinkage of lobster could help solve many hunger problems throughout the world. That’s where the possible solution of tiny fitness trackers comes into play.

Adding Fitness Trackers to Lobsters

When you have to throw away a lobster because it dies before it reaches the consumer’s plate, it’s a waste for the environment and the economy. That’s why researchers have been working hard to find a way to mitigate that loss.

Adding activity trackers to lobsters will give researchers at the University of Maine Lobster Institute more complex data to determine where the losses are coming from in the supply chain. Similar to sensors on plants or health trackers on livestock, these monitors will check things like heart rate and other surrounding conditions for the lobsters from the moment they’re caught until they reach their final destination.

The trackers are called crustacean heart activity trackers (C-HATs). They look almost like an oversized backpack for the lobster and are relatively noninvasive. In addition to the C-HATs, the lobster will have sensors to monitor temperature, motion, light, and ocean currents’ speed and direction. This allows scientists to make correlations between the lobster’s bodily responses and environmental conditions.

Once they identify the stress point, they can take action to minimize lobster shrink. These could be simple solutions, like reducing handling times or increasing the circulation in holding tanks. Although lobster shrink isn’t a primary concern among lobstermen, it will improve conditions, making the field more sustainable overall.

Making a More Sustainable Industry

As the climate continues to change and the global market increases in competition, Maine is doing what it can to be more sustainable for the sake of the lobster, environment and economy. The end goal is to minimize waste and make the supply chain more humane and efficient while maintaining sustainability in a longstanding industry.

A slight improvement, such as reducing handling times, can significantly enhance lobsters’ health. Fortunately, scientists and lobstermen alike can address those stress points with technology to make sure the lobster caught will stay alive until they reach the table. It’s a natural resource — which is something everyone should handle with utmost care and respect.