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Source: Northport Patch

DEC Investigates Dead Lobsters in Sound

Warmer water temperatures may once again be the cause.


Posted: November 9, 2010
Originally Published: November 9, 2010

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is looking into reports of dead lobsters in western Long Island Sound.

Since early October, the DEC has heard from at least six lobstermen who have found dead lobsters in their traps, a higher than normal number of reports for this time of year. Some of those fishermen have also reported finding dead crabs.

Such reports have caused concern that a repeat of the 2003 lobster die-off, or the even greater catastrophe in 1999 that decimated the lobster population in Long Island Sound, may be looming. Now, as then, attention is being focused on water temperatures.

"The water temperature in August peaked at 72 degrees," according to Kim McKown, the DEC's Crustacean Unit Leader since 2003. "That's very stressful for lobsters." In 2003, lobsters were found to carry a disease caused by higher water temperatures which led to kidney stone-like complications. However, results from testing were inconclusive that this was the cause of the dieoff. Many wonder whether pesticides played a role.

"We're currently getting spraying records from all the counties and trying to determine what was sprayed, and when," McKown confirmed. "If the findings show that there may be a correlation, then we will have to see about testing which will be very costly."

Another culprit may be paramoeba, a marine species of amoeba which can be deadly to crabs. The DEC is conducting tests to determine if paramoeba can cross species from crabs to lobsters. Testing will take several weeks.

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Co-Chair of the Northport Harbor Water Quality Committee, agrees that temperature may be a factor. "Lobsters are a cold water species. Long Island Sound is the southern tip of where they can survive. But the temperature in the Sound has increased from one to three degrees over the last 20 years. That's a considerable factor when determining lobster survival."

However, she cautions against a rush to judgment. "We don't want regulators to just quickly assume that a die-off is associated only with temperatures. Ask any lobsterman. Water temperatures weaken the immune system. The lobsters become lethargic and susceptible to parasites. There's a lot we don't know about the Sound. We have limited knowledge."

George Doll, Mayor of Northport and a lobsterman for more than 40 years, says it's too soon to tell if a die-off is occurring. "This is the time of year that lobsters go into a dormant state," he explained. "They stop feeding."

Traps may also sit for a week in the colder weather since lobstermen don't go out as often. Doll said it's sometimes hard to tell if lobsters died from other predators.

"We're seeing a few dead lobsters but we're not overly concerned. This isn't like 1999 when the traps were full and 50 percent of the lobsters were dead." For the moment, he's taking a wait-and-see-attitude. "In November, the lobsters will come out of their dormant period. Then we'll have a better idea."