Sep 7, 2013
06:03 AMConnecticut Today
With Long Island Sound Lobsters Challenged, Catching Them Banned for First Time
A lobster photo accompanies information on the Long Island Sound Lobster Research Initiative on the website at www.seagrant.sunysb.edu
With Long Island Sound lobster landings down from a peak of 3.7 million pounds in 1998 to just 230,000 pounds last year, Connecticut and New York lobstermen will get a taste of some bitter medicine this fall that may or may not do any good.
The first-ever seasonal Long Island Sound lobster fishery closure begins Sunday. It will run through Nov. 28.
The goal, mandated by the Atlantic States Fisheries Commission, is to reduce the overall catch by 10 percent, said David Simpson, director of the Marine Fisheries Division for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The drastic measure, which applies to both commercial and recreational fisheries, comes at a time when lobstermen in Maine are coming off another banner summer — with so much lobster caught that prices have sunk to record lows.
But Simpson said that, at this point, the simple explanation that perhaps warming waters are making Long Island Sound a less hospitable habitat for lobsters even as they enhance Maine’s habitat doesn’t explain the drop.
“There’s no evidence that our lobsters picked up and moved to Maine,” Simpson said. “They just don’t travel that fast.”
But they definitely aren’t in the Sound in any great numbers.
DEEP staffers have done a troll survey since 1984 in which staffers drag a net behind a boat. “In 1998, that survey in the spring caught 13,000 lobsters,” he said. “This past spring, we caught 120 lobsters.”
The DEEP also is working with University of Connecticut researchers on whether there’s any connection between pesticides sprayed to control West Nile virus and the drop in lobster population. Simpson said that at this point, he can’t say what’s responsible for the decline.
But whatever the reason may be, is there any hope to reverse it?
“That’s a fair question, but it would be irresponsible to give up and let the last lobster in Long Island Sound get harvested,” Simpson said. “So, if there’s any hope to rebuild,” those involved in the stewardship of Long Island Sound need to try what they can to bring it about, he said.
Not all lobstermen are convinced that a closure will help.