Kitty Stillufsen bought a pickup truck when she was a teenager to sell her father's leftover lobsters.

Steve Celeste's 9-year-old son has lobstering ambitions and often trolls the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey with his father from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. Brothers Adam and Joe Horvat Jr. built their 46-foot boat together. Their father, Joe Sr., works solo in the Babydoll.

Those families, and the rest of the local lobstering industry, got a recent scare when the American Lobster Management Board considered a five-year ban on lobster fishing from south of Cape Cod, Mass., to North Carolina.

That idea was voted down last month, "but that doesn't guarantee that it's off the table," said Toni Kerns, senior fisheries management plan coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. "It could come back."

Facing what it believes is a depletion of lobsters, the ASMFC could take other steps, including cutting the allowable lobster intake.

New Jersey fishermen say the state has put controls in place and further curbs are not needed. State measures include relatively tight restrictions on the size of lobsters that can be harvested and the existence of 110 commercial lobstering licenses, only 51 of which are active.

Since the ASMFC stopped distributing commercial licenses in 2001, the only way to get one is to wait until someone sells it or, as happens more often, inherit one.

"There's a limited number of lobster licenses - that's a great idea," said Stillufsen, whose family owns Red's Lobster Pot on the harbor in Point Pleasant. There also are regulations regarding the minimum and maximum lengths of the lobsters, she said.

Other lobstermen fear what they think is overzealous conservation.

"We'd rather keep it the way it is, because it's really helping a lot," said Celeste.

The elder Horvat, who has been in the business for 37 years, said that to find lobsters, scientists must ride with lobstermen. He said he regularly takes state scientists to sea to conduct population surveys, and criticized the ASMFC for not, in his estimation, taking advantage of seasoned lobstermen's knowledge.

"Their science is one-minute science," he said. "They could come down on a boat and get 30 years' experience, but they won't."

ASMFC said it receives data from surveys conducted by individual states. Kerns said the ASMFC is a body that brings East Coast states together to regulate fishing and discuss issues that affect all members. The lobster decline has been a trend for years, she said.

"You definitely do see ups and downs in the population, but the technical committee was concerned when they looked at the information. We've seen decline for so many years in a row," said Kerns.

Since its peak in the mid-1990s, the lobster population has been declining because of predation, shell disease, and higher water temperatures.

"Overfishing wasn't occurring," she said. "But the number of lobster . . . wasn't out there."

The slow maturing of the species may be one reason the population is not rebounding quickly from the decline.

"For a lobster to reach a one-pound size, which is about the minimum weight you can sell a lobster at, it takes a lobster between six and eight years," said Stillufsen.

With so many nuances to lobster recovery, and the outcry from the lobstering community, the proposed five-year moratorium has stalled. Now researchers are making projections for the population if lobstering continues at status quo, if it's cut by 50 percent, and if it's cut by 75 percent.

"A moratorium on the New Jersey lobster fishery would be pretty devastating to the commercial lobster fishing industry," said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

According to Ragonese, New Jersey lobstermen are "averaging about 600,000 pounds of lobster a year with an annual dockside value of $3 million a year."

If the resource is scarce, Celeste asked, "how can a fisherman catch 50,000 pounds of lobsters every year for the last 10 years?"