[Marxism] Long Island lobster extinction related to global warming

Louis Proyect 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 
of factors."

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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