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Source: Ct Post

Lobstermen voice anger over proposed ban

BY FRANK JULIANO
STAFF WRITER

Posted: July 19, 2010
Originally Published: July 16, 2010

NEW HAVEN -- For many in attendance at a public hearing on a proposed five-year ban on lobstering, the debate is a question of survival -- either the Long Island Sound lobsters or the commercial fishermen who trap them.

Testy exchanges between members of the Connecticut Commercial Lobstermens' Association and the state official who oversees the industry punctuated a public hearing Thursday night at The Sound School in New Haven.

A committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is proposing a five-year ban on lobstering from Woods Hole, Mass., to Cape May, N.J., a move that some Connecticut lobstermen see as a ploy to help their counterparts in Maine.

The full commission is expected to decide next spring, and the moratorium, if approved, would take effect in the fall of 2011, officials said.

David Simpson, director of the marine fisheries division of the state Department of Environmental Protection, told the more than 75 people at the hearing that he does not favor a moratorium.

"I think that would be devastating to the industry, but something does need to be done short of that to address the die-off and the signs of shell disease," Simpson said. "This is the time to be coming with ideas."

Rising water temperatures, as well as increased stocks of scup and striped bass that prey on young lobsters are likely the cause of a sharp decline in the lobster catch, particularly in the western half of the Sound, Simpson said.

But veteran lobstermen have a different theory, one that they trace to the DEP itself and to local health officials. The placement of "brickettes" of the pesticide BTI in storm drains has led to the die-off, decreased yields and other problems, Roger Frate said.

The chemical, used since 1999 to reduce the number of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, is a classic example of bureaucracy causing one problem while fixing another, Gus Bertoff said.

Simpson said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can approve payments for "crop failure" if it can be shown that the cause of the die-off is something other than over-fishing.

State shellfish growers have received the federal payments before. Oyster harvesters shared $6.5 million 10 years ago, when a parasite nearly wiped out that industry.

While the financial help would be welcome, Bart Mansi said, "we're not looking for a handout. We basically want to be left alone. We just want to be able to make a living. Most of the guys in this room have never taken a penny in unemployment."

Among the suggestions bandied about at Thursday night's hearing is a return to the V-notch program, in which mature female lobsters are released back into the Sound, and a temporary closure during the time of year when female lobsters are laying eggs.

The New Haven-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment also opposes the moratorium, director Adrienne Esposito said. She called the proposal "draconian" in a prepared statement and recommended "more reasonable, sustainable restoration efforts."