N.Y. pesticide use blamed for late-summer lobster die-off
HARTFORD -- Long Island Sound lobster fishers, grappling with the 12th year of a tragic die-off that threatens the livelihood of the few left in the industry, asked state lawmakers on Wednesday to persuade neighboring New York to change the chemical it uses to attack mosquitoes.
They are convinced that the pesticide methoprene, which is put in New York storm sewer catch basins to kill mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus, is responsible for a late-summer lobster die-off in the western section of the Sound following the rains of Tropical Storm Irene.
"New York is the one at fault," said Roger Frate, a Darien seafood merchant and lobsterman. "This is what we know."
Michael Kalaman, a Norwalk lobster fisherman, said the people trying to make a living on the Sound know it best. "We love what we do," he said during a meeting attended by about 20 people in the Legislative Office Building. "We're the ultimate stewards of the environment."
Kalaman said the chemical is insidious. "It goes to the bottom like a fog bank and rolls around in the tide," affecting all water life from fish to micro-organisms.
During a meeting arranged by state Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, executive director of the nonprofit Soundkeeper Fund, lobster fishers said last spring the harvest was robust, for a change, compared to the die-off that dates back to 1999 when there were 1,000 people in the lobster industry. Now there are fewer than 80 making their living catching the tasty crustaceans.
Two months ago, however, with record rainfall in August, a suspected storm runoff from New York containing methoprene hit the Sound and sank to the bottom of the water column, affecting lobsters the same way it attacks the shellfish's distant cousins, mosquitoes.
In a five-minute video, Kalaman, captain of the lobster boat Dark Horse, showed dozens of dead and dying lobsters, crabs and fish that were pulled from traps and tossed back into the Sound.
Because the western stretch of the Sound is constricted, there are weaker currents pulling the pesticide concentrations out toward open water to the east. Connecticut uses less-lethal bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, or BTI, to control mosquitoes.
After the heavy rainfall of Tropical Storm Irene, the lobsters in the western Sound immediately began to show signs of illness, said the fishing professionals.
Backer said it would be hard for Connecticut to persuade New York to change its habits.
"I don't know if we have a way of getting at it," Backer said during the meeting, which was co-sponsored by state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford. "I believe that there are a whole host of multiple causes," including warming water and chemicals leaching into the water after storms.
Leone and Duff said they want to gather as much information as possible so that when the General Assembly meets again in February it will be able to help an industry that was once worth $100 million a year.