A law currently under debate in Connecticut would restrict the use of two pesticides widely used to kill mosquitoes in hopes of saving the region’s dwindling lobster population.
Connecticut lobsters began suffering a precipitous decline in the late 1990s, from which they have never recovered. In 1998, 3.7 million pounds of lobsters were harvested from the Connecticut waters of the Long Island Sound. By 2002, that number was one million.
The latest data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that just over 150,000 pounds of lobsters were caught in Connecticut in 2011.
What accounts for this dramatic crustacean disappearance?
Lobstermen in Connecticut and New York have been raising alarms about the effects of common pesticides on sea life for years. Methoprene and resmethrin, two pesticides that can be highly toxic to marine animals, are used to kill mosquitoes and their larvae. Many states have used the compounds in their efforts to combat West Nile virus.
While Maine has a thriving lobster population that has supported record catches in recent years, the news keeps getting worse for those making a living off the waters of the Long Island Sound. Connecticut has about 30 full-time lobstermen, down from 300 in the years before lobsters became scarce. For their part, Connecticut lobstermen applauded the new legislation to limit the use of pesticides.
“For the first time in 14 years, the state is kind of doing the right thing and listening to us,” Tony Carlo, a Connecticut lobsterman, told the Connecticut Post. “We strongly believe if this happens in a few years, the lobster industry could have a future. They have to do something to save the sea animals.”
The bill was approved by the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, and now heads to the Appropriations Committee. If it passes, the legislation would allow the use of methoprene and resmethrin to control mosquito populations, but would limit other uses.
In the past, rising water temperatures, low levels of oxygen in the ocean, and a 1996 oil spill in Rhode Island have been blamed for causing the great lobster die-off. Whether or not pesticides are the true culprit is a matter of some debate.
In 2012, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) confirmed the presence of pesticides in a small number of lobsters. But the sample size was too small to draw any conclusions, so DEEP began a more thorough study, which is expected to be completed this summer.
DEEP officials told the Post that they would have preferred that the General Assembly waited to introduce the pesticide legislation until the study was completed and a clearer connection was found between pesticides and lobster illness.
“If, in this wider scale sampling we find the subject pesticides to be very rare, in low concentrations or absent that would provide more definitive answers about risks to lobster,” Dr. David Simpson, marine fisheries director at the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection, wrote in an email to TakePart.
“If it turns out that [the pesticides are] common or in higher concentrations then we will have more work in front of us I expect to better understand how these compounds may impact lobster health.”