[Marxism] Long Island lobster extinction related to global warming
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 7 07:06:26 MDT 2007
What's Killing the Lobsters Of Long Island Sound?
Argument on Global Warming's Role Comes to a Boil
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007; A01
LONG ISLAND SOUND, Conn. -- The trap buoys, orange and white, wink
between the waves in this murky estuary, beckoning with the promise of
the sweetest of New England's delights: lobster. As plentiful as
sardines, they were. So much so that generations of Connecticut
lobstermen did bang-up business trolling these waters for big and juicy
jewels of the sea.
But not anymore. "Everyone thinks that lobsters only come from Maine,
but it isn't so -- we had tons of lobster right here," said Roger Frate
Jr., 38, yanking up one of dozens of mostly empty traps, salty and
pungent with algae from the depths of western Long Island Sound. "We had
great hauls. But now? These waters are a graveyard."
Something is killing the lobsters of Long Island Sound. Over the past
decade, the lobster boom here has gone almost completely bust. The
die-off has been so severe -- a 70 to 90 percent drop since 1998,
according to scientists and state estimates -- that hundreds of
lobstermen have been forced out of business. Unable to make a living in
waters once as rich as bisque with crustaceans, many have had no choice
but to abandon a trade that amounted to more of a cherished lifestyle
than a job.
As the old lobstermen culture of Connecticut withers, desperate
fishermen are hanging up their rubber waders to become boat mechanics,
plumbers and landscapers. Some have declared bankruptcy. Others have
sold their boats and houses in desperation, moving away. A few -- very
few, including Frate and his father -- have stayed on, trying to earn a
hardscrabble existence from the pitiful catch that remains.
"You don't know how this damned die-off has changed lives," said Roger
Frate Sr., 62, a 40-year professional lobsterman. "Look, I've seen some
of these fishermen cry. Hey, these are tough guys. But I've seen them
face those empty traps and cry."
Since the lobsters began dying off almost a decade ago, the great
mystery has been this: What is killing them? There is little consensus
but several theories. The only thing known for sure is that the worst of
the die-off occurred in 1999.
That year, these picturesque breeding grounds -- a gray estuary bordered
on the southwest by the glimmering skyscrapers of Manhattan and on the
west and north by the grand manses of the Connecticut shore -- went
barren. In some cases, divers discovered up to a foot of dead lobsters
piled on the bottom of Long Island Sound. Since then, the lobster
population has continued to erode or languish, with few promising signs
of a rebound.
The lobstermen here, as well as some marine biologists, have pointed at
pesticides that were sprayed on the Connecticut and New York coasts in
1999 to kill mosquitoes during an outbreak of West Nile virus. The
lobstermen, in fact, sued Cheminova Inc., makers of one of the most
commonly used pesticides, saying that the company did not include enough
of the product's environmental side effects on its labels.
The company never admitted guilt and it settled out of court this year
for $12.5 million -- about 10 percent of what the plaintiffs were
seeking in damages. Roger Frate Sr. and others who opposed the
settlement insist that the money received, which amounted to a low- to
mid-five-figure payout for most lobstermen, did not even begin to
mitigate the damage.
Yet recent studies have suggested an alternative culprit, one that is
profoundly controversial on these shores: global warming.
Two scientific reports have shown that warming waters in the western
Sound may have seriously contributed to the die-off. One report released
this summer and associated with the Washington-based Union of Concerned
Scientists (UCS) stated that "although a number of factors played a role
in this die-off, warmer water temperatures seem to have set the stage."
It notes that lobsters have a maximum stress threshold of 68 degrees,
yet in the summer of 1999 -- a time when the waters were particularly
balmy after the region was hit by Hurricane Floyd and a tropical storm
-- bottom water temperatures reached new highs for the decade. In some
locations, August temperatures exceeded 74 degrees, while even October
temperatures were higher than 70 degrees. At the same time, the churning
of the Sound by successive storms may have affected oxygen levels.
Scientists leaning toward the global warming theory argue that the
storms had a catastrophic effect because Sound lobsters were growing
increasing stressed by decades of warming waters. Temperatures in the
Sound, particularly in the western half farther from cooling Atlantic
water, have been rising for years as air temperatures have increased in
the northeast by a rate of nearly 0.5 degrees per decade since the
1970s, according to the UCS study. Last year, for instance, average
water temperatures around the Millstone Power Station -- a key measuring
point for Sound water temperatures -- reached their highest average
temperatures in more than a century.
The theory, advocates say, fits with the fact that lobster harvesting
has reached record levels in Maine, where the warming of that state's
far colder coast has lifted the temperatures into a range more conducive
to lobster growth.
"What we found was that the concentrations of pesticides in the water
could not have been high enough to be lethal to lobsters," said Sylvain
De Guise, director of Connecticut's Sea Grant program and a lead
researcher on a major 2005 study of the die-off published in the Journal
of Shellfish Research. "Instead, we're probably looking at a combination
He continued: "What you can say is that the western Sound is at the
southernmost range for [coastal] lobsters, and it's very likely that the
impact of warming waters would be seen here first. I'd have to say that
global warming, based on common sense, is the strongest argument."
Fish tales, counter the lobstermen. Even some lobster experts insist the
coincidence of the 1999 catastrophic die-off occurring the same year as
heavy pesticide spraying simply cannot be ignored.
"Look, those waters have been warm before in summers past, real warm,
and nothing like this has ever happened," said Lance Stewart, a lobster
expert at the University of Connecticut. "It's crazy to suggest this is
somehow linked to global warming. It was the pesticides, pure and simple."
Regardless of the reason, the lobster die-off has devastated lives along
the graceful Connecticut shoreline of lighthouses and chowder huts. As
many as 400 lobstermen made a living here in 1998, a time when the
storied industry was worth an estimated $12.1 million a year. Today,
only a few dozen lobstermen are left and the industry's value has
dropped to about $4 million, much of which still goes to middlemen and
retailers, according to state statistics and lobstermen groups.
It has torn men with salt in their blood from the sea. Many received
additional compensation through grants from the National Marine
Fisheries Service. But for most, it was not enough to stay afloat.
After a life spent lobstering, Anthony Coviello, 63, had fully
anticipated that he would be close to retiring about now. But when the
bust happened, he and his wife were forced to sell their house, car and
lobster boat. They recently relocated to Naples, Fla. There, he is still
struggling to find work while they try to make ends meet on his wife's
salary from a job with the local school system.
"You know, lobster was our life," he said. "But when they disappeared,
we lost the business, we lost everything. I can't tell you how much I
miss it. Not being out on the water every day. You know, the sun, the
wind. It was a great life."
Lobstermen such as Roger Frate Sr. have fought to survive by becoming
better businessmen. The family used to operate three lobster boats,
whose catch would stock the tanks at their quaint seafood market in
Darien, Conn. These days, they are down to one lobster boat, having
retired one and refitted another for clamming. Their wholesale business
has largely dried up. But he has hired a cook at the market, and is now
focusing on retail sales, buying lobster from Maine to augment the
paltry local catch.
"We just don't know if the lobsters are going to come back," he said. "I
can't even talk about it sometimes. It's hard, very hard."
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