Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: Riverhead Local

Following new restrictions on lobstermen, a demand to restore funding for L.I. Sound


Posted: July 23, 2012
Originally Published: July 23, 2012

Advocates for Long Island Sound and the dwindling number of lobstermen who ply its waters are gathering today in Connecticut to protest the planned closure of the sound to lobstering for three months next year.

The closure, approved by the American Lobster Management Board in February, will be the first-ever shutdown of the L.I. Sound lobster fishery, which has been in a severe decline since the late 1990s and some say is on the verge of collapse.

Regulators this month imposed an emergency rule, effective immediately, requiring the notching and release of all legal size egg-bearing female lobsters caught in three management areas, including the sound.

"This is akin to putting a Band-Aid on an infection," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and an advocate for L.I. Sound restoration measures.

"It does not address the root cause of the problem and does nothing for the species. All it does is put lobstermen out of business," Esposito said.

Lobster landings in the sound dropped from 3.7 million pounds in 1998 to 142,000 pounds in 2011, according to the Connecticut department of energy and environmental protection. Landings have fallen by 99 percent in the western and central sound, the agency said

Many local lobstermen have pulled in their traps for the last time. There's only one local lobsterman fishing out of Mattituck Inlet, Matt DeMaula. See prior story.

No definitive cause of the fishery's decline has been identified and agreed upon.

"The one thing we do know is it's not from over-fishing," Esposito said.

Lobstermen have blamed the increased application of pesticides to control mosquito populations after the arrival of West Nile virus. Following a die-off of historic proportions in September 1999, about 1,100 lobstermen brought a federal lawsuit against pesticide manufacturers in 2000, seeking $125 million in damages.

Before the 1999 die-off, lobstering in the L.I. Sound had been a $100 million industry.

The suit was settled in two separate deals with three pesticide manufacturers, in 2004 and 2006, for a total of $15.25 million dollars.

Scientists were not willing to pin blame on the pesticides. They cited high water temperatures, low levels of dissolved oxygen and other pollutants on possible contributing factors.

Connecticut environmental officials announced this month they found the pesticides resmethrin and methoprene in the tissues of lobsters collected for study in mid-sound waters. The size of the sample was not large enough to draw broad conclusions, they said. The Connecticut agency will continue monitoring water temperatures and begin taking individual lobsters from the sound for health assessments this summer.

Esposito and other environmental advocates argue the cause of the lobster decline is a combination of contamination — primarily by outdated sewage treatment plants discharging into the sound — and the sound's rising water temperatures.

There are 44 sewage treatment plants discharging more than 1 billion gallons of sewage effluent into the L.I. Sound every day, according to a Long Island Sound Study 2010 report. (Click here to view larger chart in a new window.) The effluent contains treated organic matter, including nutrients that contribute to algal blooms, which deplete dissolved oxygen in the water as the algae die and decompose.

Upgrading sewage treatment facilities is an expensive undertaking. Grant monies previously made available by the federal government have dried up, and now the federal government is only offering strapped municipalities loans, Esposito said.

"This falls squarely on the shouders of the federal government and lack of leadership in funding L.I. Sound restoration and sewage treatment plant upgrades," Esposito said.

Funding for restoration and sewage treatment plant upgrades has been inconsistent and, overall, has plummeted over time. Even the revolving loan funds for STP upgrades have declined, from $3.5 billion in 2010 to under $2 billion in 2012.

L.I. Sound restoration funding has also been decimated, from an authorization of $40 million in 2004 to the current day's ongoing battle to get authorization approved by Congress for spending at one-quarter that amount, according to Esposito.

"There's a huge battle going on in the Senate over the L.I. Sound restoration act," Esposito said. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has been fighting for the funding, she said. Republicans demanded offsets in exchange for a $10 million spending authorization, Esposito said. Gillibrand's staff found $10 million worth of offsets, but passage of the authorization is still up in the air, according to Esposito.

Even if authorized, the funds can't be spent unless also appropriated.

"The most that's ever actually spent was $7 million out of the $40 million authorized," Esposito said.

A wide range of restoration efforts are needed, including restoration of wetlands, habitat and sea grass, Esposito said, noting the sound has lost 90 percent of its sea grass beds. Money is also needed to further assess the source of the sound's water quality problems.

"If the federal government really wants to fix the problem, it needs to fund restoration of the L.I. Sound," Esposito said. "Putting local lobstermen out of business isn't going to do anything to help."