Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prepare to Say Goodbye to Lobsters in the Sound

One of the results of the experiment from hell, as Professor David Conover termed it a couple of years ago, is that Long Island Sound may soon no longer be part of the range of the American lobster. Another lobster die-off seems to be underway, similar to the devastating 1999 die-off, and Eric Smith, the head of the Connecticut DEP's marine fisheries bureau, says the end may be nigh. The New Haven Register:

Eric M. Smith, director of marine fisheries for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said state officials began to receive reports last fall of lobsters showing stress and disease problems similar to 1999....

According to Smith, summer 2007 was “a pretty bad temperature year” in the Sound. He said global warming could well be playing a role, since Sound lobsters are at the extreme southern end of their natural range.

Smith said fishermen complain pesticides must be the root cause of the latest die-off, but scientists haven’t been able to document pesticides as the killer.

“We’re a little perplexed,” Smith said of pesticides claims. “We don’t know what’s killing them.”

Smith warned members of Connecticut’s Long Island Sound Task Force that the current trend for lobsters in the Sound is grim.

“If the mortality rate continues in Long Island Sound for the next 10-15 years, we won’t have a lobster fishery,” Smith said.

Warmer water, almost certainly caused by global warming, seems to be the key factor. Long Island Sound is at the extreme southern inshore range of Homarus americanus, a cold-water species. If temperatures rise just a few degrees, the habitat has changed and is no longer suitable for lobsters. That's just one of the things that David Conover, of SUNY Stony Brook, meant in 2006 when he spoke at the Long Island Sound Citizens Summit:

“What we are doing with planet earth,” he said, “is a massive experiment from hell.”

This year's Citizens Summit, by the way, is Saturday, March 8, 2008, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Holiday Inn and Conference Center, in Bridgeport. The theme: The Long Island Sound Fishery: Flourishing or Floundering?



Blogger Sam said...

Gosh that's bad news right when we were thinking there might be a slight recovery. It makes me feel bad because when I was a kid we had more lobster than we could eat ... they used to be considered a poor man's dinner.

I don't think it's just the temperature, since lobsters can handle waters up to 74 degrees F just fine, if not more. I strongly suspect something else is happening. For example, shell disease and lobster mortality is also high off Rhode Island where bottom temperatures can be much cooler than in the Long Island Sound. There may be some secondary effects but it can't all be warmer water for a few months a year.

I thought that for lobster die-offs we had totally discounted pesticides are were looking at microscopic diseases, parasites, or some kind of chemical disruptor, perhaps several causes at once? I thought that was the goal of present-day research so we could learn from that so as to protect the massive Maine lobster fishery.

Something just isn't right.

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

It's not just temperature -- you're right, Sam. Temperature was one factor contributing to the 1999 die-off. Storms and runoff, hypoxia, and parasites were other factors. Nothing anybody said in the newspaper article indicated which if any of the other factors came into play last summer. Truth is, it's a new world, ecologically, and nobody really knows.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

About 20 years ago, I learned that lobsters show their highest growth rate at about 72-degrees.

Maybe someone should be talking to the people who are trying to figure out why half of our honeybee population has mysteriously disappeared...

Setauket, NY

10:37 AM  

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