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Monday, August 2, 2010

Yellow lobster caught in Bay, one in 30 million

By: Peter Lord

Journal photo / Ruben W. Perez

Denny Ingram shows off a yellow lobster he caught last week in Narragansett Bay.

When Denny Ingram hauled one of his lobster pots in Narragansett Bay's East Passage last week, he found one lobster unlike any he had ever seen. It was golden on top and bright yellow on the sides.

"I thought, holy cow, this is unusual. And no one else around here has ever seen anything like it either," said Ingram.

Yellow lobsters are rare, but not unheard of. When one was brought ashore in Massachusetts last year, several experts said its coloration came from a gene carried by both parents that occurs in about one in 30 million lobsters.

The same figure was cited when a yellow lobster was brought ashore in Maine in 2006.

Slightly more common are blue lobsters. The Audubon Education Center in Bristol has one in its tidal pool that was caught in Narragansett Bay. It replaces another blue lobster that was caught in the Bay in 2003.

"The first blue lobster got too big - about a pound and three quarters - so we released it back into the Bay," said Anne Dimonti, director of the center. "Now we're on our second one and its doing wonderfully."

She said she did some research on lobsters with unusual colors and found estimates varied widely. For blue lobsters, she said estimates ranged from one in a million to one in 20 million. She thinks one in 4 million seemed to be the most cited figure.

"Being born a blue lobster is not so rare; what's rare is surviving into adulthood as a blue lobster," Dimonti said. "When you're a bright blue baby lobster walking around on the ocean bottom, somebody is going to pick you off very quickly."

Lobster shells are colored with blue, yellow and red pigments, so genetic variations are expected.

These have been stressful times for local lobstermen. Shell disease is damaging large percentages of their catch. Prices are down. Expenses are up. And recently biologists for a regional regulatory agency recommended a five year moratorium on lobster fishing because they said lobster populations were in trouble.

Lobstermen insisted their catches are fine. The agency postponed any action and ordered further studies.

Ingram plans to keep his unusual lobster on display at the fishermen's co-op at the State Pier in Newport, where 22 shellfishermen sell their catches of lobsters and crabs to the public. Its hours are 1 to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

The lobster is about a pound and a quarter, he said.

"A perfect little male."

Later, he expects to donate it to an aquarium.

Dimonti said lobsters are so territorial the yellow lobster would fight with the blue one if it was added to the Audubon Society's tidal pool. She said some bigger aquariums might have room for such an unusual animal.