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John Skinner

John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.

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August 18, 2012

Lobsters and Pestcides

by John Skinner

I'm not an environmentalist. Sure, I care about the environment, but when environmentalists come knocking on my door, they're politely asked to leave before they can push the latest petition in my face. My reaction to these groups comes from an aspect of my life unrelated to fishing that has allowed me to observe an "ends justifies the means" attitude that promotes misinformation and opposition to just about everything. I'm sure there are some good and honest environmental groups, but those aren't the ones I'm familiar with. Now that you know where I stand with them, you'll know I'm not pushing an environmentalist agenda here when I wonder aloud if our municipalities are killing Long Island Sound lobsters by spraying for mosquitoes.
This concept has been theorized for years, and I was always a bit skeptical because one word kept popping into my mind - "dilution". How could some spray on land get to a lobster 40 to 100 feet below the surface of Long Island Sound in any detectable quantities? In late July when I saw the Newsday headline "Mosquito pesticide turning up in lobsters", and read further, my skepticism was erased. Newsday reported that, in what was believed to be the first such finding involving local lobsters, Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection found trace amounts of resmethrin, also known as Scourge, in at least three out of 10 lobsters tested, and methoprene in at least one.
The lobsters were collected in September 2011 from the mid-Sound after Connecticut lobstermen reported hauling up more dead and weak lobsters than usual. The study was released in early July. "We frankly didn't expect to find pesticides," Dave Simpson, the agency's director of marine fisheries, said. Scourge has been sprayed over Long Island to kill adult mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus. Methoprene briquettes have been placed in North Shore marshes and limited areas of Connecticut to stop larvae from growing.
I dive for lobsters. Up until the mid 90's, I could easily get my six-lobster limit with free-diving gear diving from the beaches between Miller Place and Riverhead. You could get your limit, go back to the same little rock caves about five days later, and get another limit. I ran out of ways to eat them and my freezer filled with them. The fishery crashed in the late-90's, and I stopped diving until my son became old enough to scuba dive in 2006. Those first few years diving with my son were nothing like the "old days", but we did OK using scuba equipment to hit very good structure. We usually grabbed between 5 and 8 keepers between us, and saw plenty of shorts. By 2010, we were happy to bring 3 home on a trip despite learning new spots, but we were still seeing shorts. 2011 was downright poor. We've made only two dives this summer, to our best spots, and have not even seen a short lobster. These dives were made before the heat waves and when the water temperature was still in the 60s.
Is the overall lobster stock in trouble? Not even close. If you Google "lobster war US Canada" you can read about the surplus of lobsters up North. This glut has driven down prices and caused tensions between Maine and Canadian lobster trappers. So might this be something else to blame on "global warming". Given that New York is on the southern end of the lobster's range, this sounds like a reasonable theory. Our waters are running warmer than they used to, and this has pushed the lobsters North. But let's forget about lobsters for a bit and consider another less desirable bottom inhabitant common to our area – the spider crab.
We usually see so many spider crabs on our dives that we don't even notice them anymore. They're not gone by any means, but these last two seasons we've seen a lot less of them. More disturbing is that we're seeing an unusually high number of dead ones. At one point in a June dive at Northville we found 4 dead ones in an area of about a 5 foot radius. Could this be warm water related? This is doubtful because the spider crab range extends all the way down to Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico. Given that crabs and lobsters are closely related, it seems reasonable that something that kills spider crabs would also kill lobsters.
While it's reassuring that the lobster population is healthy to our North, it's troubling that the Long Island Sound stock is in such bad shape. Now that pesticides have turned up in Long Island Sound lobsters, the possibility that pesticides are at least contributing to the downturn needs to be considered aggressively. One way to find out is to stop spraying and see what happens to the lobster population, but this will take years and is unlikely to happen out of concern of the spread of West Nile Virus. There's no easy answer to this one.

2006 - My son's first season diving. We had no trouble getting lobsters on beach dives.

Here's some video shot on a 2010 night dive in Long Island Sound. You'll see some lobster action here, but we can't even find shorts on this structure two years later.

Comments (1)

spero pools wrote 8 years ago

Nice piece, couldn't agree with you more. In these situations, everyone looks to point fingers instead of finding a solution. Classic blame game.

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