Noah Oppenheim: Lobster presentation best at ecosystem symposium

In November, Noah Oppenheim won the best student oral presentation award at the American Lobster in a Changing Ecosystem symposium in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

“Forecasting the future of the American lobster in the Gulf of Maine and Southern New England: trouble on the horizon?” was the title of his talk.

In it, the University of Maine graduate student in the School of Marine Sciences described forecasts from predictive models he developed in pursuit of his dual master’s degree in marine biology and marine policy.

Using juvenile lobster abundance estimates and environmental indicators, the models predict commercial landings in the Gulf of Maine and Southern New England lobster fishery several years in advance.

“This work represents a unique early-warning system for the lobster fishery,” says Oppenheim. “This approach is unique because we survey newly settled lobsters that repopulate coastal nurseries each fall, at least five to eight years before they reach legal size.”

The early warning system indicates that declines in commercial landings may occur over the next several years throughout the Gulf of Maine.

“All good science is accompanied by uncertainty, and my forecasts aren’t a perfect window on the future. But, I have a lot of confidence in the power of this new information to help lobster fishermen, dealers and fishery managers make better decisions,” Oppenheim says.

“The health of the lobster fishery is a key part of the economic health of the state’s culture. Diagnosing problems early should enhance outcomes significantly.”

The symposium was the second U.S.-Canadian science convention designed to bring together scientists, policymakers and fishermen to discuss the ecologically and commercially important crustacean.

Oppenheim, who grew up in Falmouth and graduated from Waynflete School in Portland, also made a presentation at that first one — the 2012 American Lobster in a Changing Ecosystem symposium in Portland, Maine.

Just a few months prior to that presentation, Oppenheim had started his graduate program based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. His topic: “Cannibals by night? Density-dependent feeding in the Gulf of Maine’s lobster population.”

His presentation resulted from videotape he captured in 2009 of lobsters cannibalizing their young at night on the ocean floor off Pemaquid Point.

It was a scientific first and made considerable waves among researchers and the media.

Earlier this spring, Oppenheim was awarded a Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship. The one-year paid internship, which begins in February, is intended to provide a unique educational experience to graduate students interested in ocean, coastal and Great Lakes resources, as well as in national policy decisions affecting those resources.

During the fellowship, Oppenheim will work in the Washington, D.C., office of Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California).

Huffman, whose six-county district extends from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, serves on two House committees — Natural Resources and Transportation and Infrastructure.  The University of California at Santa Barbara alumnus was a three-time NCAA All-American volleyball player and graduated from Boston College Law School.

Oppenheim lived on the West Coast when he was earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. While in college, the Divemaster studied hammerhead shark migration in the Galapagos Islands and was a crewmember on sailing vessels in the South Pacific.

After graduating, Oppenheim worked in the Bering Sea as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service groundfish observer and a deckhand on a salmon fishing vessel.

“The Knauss Fellowship represents the perfect opportunity to continue working at the intersection of ocean science, management and industry at the highest level,” he says.

“I’m incredibly and humbled and excited for this chance to make a positive impact on ocean conservation and natural resource policy. I have a lot of people to for their support over the years: UMaine faculty and staff, Sea Grant staff and everyone at the Darling Center, my home base for the past few years.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777