Responding To A Resource Disaster : American Lobsters In Long Island Sound 1999-2004
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Responding To A Resource Disaster : American Lobsters In Long Island Sound 1999-2004

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    In the fall of 1999, the American lobster (Homarus americanus) resource in western Long Island Sound (Connecticut and New York) experienced a significant mortality event. State and federal landings data indicate that prior to the die-off, bi-state commercial lobster harvests ranged from 7 to 11.7 million lbs. annually, valued at $18 to $40 million. Twelve hundred resident commercial lobster licenses were issued in 1998; in 2002, fewer than 900 lobstermen remained licensed. Commercial harvests of LIS lobsters totaled about 1. 6 million lbs. in 2004, worth slightly less than $7 million. Documentation supplied by the two state resource management agencies in collaboration with the commercial lobster industry resulted in a Department of Commerce declaration of a 'commercial fishery failure due to a resource disaster'. Strong bi-state Congressional support led to an appropriation of $13.9 million in disaster assistance: $7.3 million for economic relief and $6.6 million for resource monitoring and assessment, and to support a research initiative to investigate the potential causes of the mortality event. Connecticut and New York also contributed research support, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Long Island Sound Office (Table 1). 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.
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