Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Pesticide Myth and Long Island Sound's Lobster Die-Off

Lobstermen, who no doubt are hard-working and well-meaning, continue to peddle the myth that Long Island Sound's lobster die-off in 1999 was caused primarily by the spraying of pesticides in New York City to control West Nile virus. Gullible newspaper reporters continue to put the lobstermen's assertion into news accounts without challenging it and without performing the simplest Google search to see if there's any merit to it. Here's an example, from a mildly interesting story in today's New Haven Register about the price of lobster:

Lobsters taken fresh from Long Island Sound are few and far between these days after a mass die-out in 1999 that wiped out nearly 80 percent of the lobsters living there.

Though an official cause of the die-off has not been found, local lobstermen have their own ideas about what killed their livelihood.

Nick Crismale, president of the Connecticut Commercial Lobstermen's Association, said the die-off was caused by the spraying of pesticides targeting West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes. The pesticides were sprayed in New York and eventually washed into the Sound.

Did you get that? If not, let me repeat for emphasis: though an official cause of the die-off has not been found...

Unfortunately that's not true. Scientists have known since 2004 that pesticides were not the primary cause of the die-off and probably were only a very small factor in a small area of the Sound, namely the far western end. They said as much in an official report, which came out about a year ago and which you can download here. The executive summary of the report says:

Sixty-five scientists at 30 institutions and agencies nationwide participated in the research initiative, investigating the effects of environmental factors, mosquito control pesticides, and disease on the physiology and health of American lobsters. The results indicate that the physiology of the lobsters was severely stressed by sustained, hostile environmental conditions, driven by above- average water temperatures. A new lobster disease, paramoebiasis, was identified as the proximate cause of death for the majority of lobsters examined by pathologists. Laboratory studies demonstrated that the pesticides used for mosquito control have sub-lethal or lethal effects on lobsters, based on concentration and time of exposure; however, modeling exercises indicate it is unlikely that the concentrations of individual pesticides in western Long Island Sound were high enough to cause the mortality event.

Again, for emphasis:
it is unlikely that the concentrations of individual pesticides in western Long Island Sound were high enough to cause the mortality event.

So who are you going to believe, 65 scientists, or Nick Crismale?

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Blogger Sam said...

Funny how some of the largest lobster landings were when they used to use DDT and other wicked mixtures in mosquito spray trucks. The stuff they use these days is fairly benign, as it had to be approved by EPA.

Most commercial fishermen are a superstitious lot, Tom. That's the way they think. Just try to walk on a commercial fishing boat with a banana in your hand - you might get tossed overboard! Bananas are extreme bad luck.

All those hidden talents, superstitions, and a nose for finding fish don't translate very well into the science of aquatic biology, oceanography, invertibrate toxicology and epidemiology, and other hard sciences. Give 'em a break, dude.

The journalists should be spanked, however.


1:51 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

I am going to have to believe the lobsterman here. Nick Crismale knows the water he works on. As well as every other commercial fisherman he is cognizant of his environment. To say that there were 65 scientists that did a controlled study on the certain substance is substantial. However the fact comes up that the summer that year was very hot, causing the water to be warmer than ordinary. With higher water temperatures there is less dissolved oxygen, a factor that pushes lobsters to high stress and almost out of the zone of tolerance. Once the zone of tolerance is reached the lobsters die. Next we introduce a chemical that is being sprayed for mosquitoes which would not typically kill off a lobster, but would add more stress into the lobster’s life. When we see the lobster with high stress from warm water and added stress from chemicals a die off occurs, and this is what happened in 1999.
Scientific research is great to put into reports. Being a mate on multiple fishing boats, duck hunting the sound in the winter, and lobstering I feel as if the water is a second home. Every other commercial lobsterman left today will say the same thing. Back in 1999, something happened. There were warm summers before that didn’t kill the lobsters. Adding the chemicals is what put the lobsters over the zone of tolerance.
There really is no need to play the blame game anymore. There has been hundreds of lobsterman who lost jobs, most of whom were good hard working people. Now the only thing to look at is the recovery of the population of lobsters. Something anyone can fathom how to do. In this case it may be better for man to just back off and let nature try and recover. There have been great programs like the V-Notch program which took kids out to mark egged females so they would not be caught in a trap and released, however funding ran out so a great program failed. All we can do is sit back and watch nature now. The men still working today are just guys who do it because they love it and God Bless them for doing so.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


why would the chemical company settle a multimillion dollar lawsuit with over 200 lobsterman if they were not culpable? see above link

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i work on a lobster boat, and this article is rediculous and shows how ignorant some people can be. lobsters are affected by pesticides used on mosquitos and have sufferedfor it. aswell the waters have been getting warmer and pollution has increased, causing the die off rate to increase. Multimillon dollar companies and scientists are to lazy to study side affects and possibilites of disaster. people today are ignorant and only care for themselves.


8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all DDT isn't nearly as bad as the bi-products of its production, that was the primary reason for the ban.
Second, one need only look to the health and history of the rivers flowing into Long Island Sound to realize the health of the Sound has been being degraded for decades.
My family left Montauk, and Lobster trapping, decades ago as the lobster population was decreasing so rapidly that trapping with traditional methods became unprofitable.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do agree that journalist are as unscientific as privately funded researchers are biased. A poorly written article does not mean that the premise is false, and if research is poorly done it does not mean that the conclusions are not true.

12:05 PM  

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