FAIRFIELD COUNTY, CONN. -- As summer vacationers make their annual pilgrimages north to the historical ports of Block Island, Nantucket, Cape Cod and beyond, long days on the beach and a sampling of the ocean’s finest fare sit atop many to do lists.
Undoubtedly the most famous of all seasonal delights is the prized American lobster. With nearly limitless serving options, lobster is consumed in massive quantities in coastal towns ranging New London to Bar Harbor. With the lion’s share of lobsters coming from Maine and Massachusetts, it’s easy to forget these delicious crustaceans once were once a common staple in our waters off southwest Connecticut.
According to Dave Sigworth of the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, in 1999 more than 3.9 million lobster were harvested throughout the season. In comparison, the 2010 season recorded a catch of just over 350,000 crustaceans.
Even with an ever changing climate and a competitive fishing industry, a drop of nearly 90 percent in lobster catches signals something is very wrong with the Sound’s stock.
There are a few possible theories as to what caused this alarming drop off Sigworth claims, the most viable of these being the result of pesticide spraying.
In October of 1999, a large scale outbreak of West Nile Virus was reported in the New York Metro area forcing lawmakers to adopt an aggressive extermination of the marshland insects. Both inland and coastal spraying resulted in massive chemical run offs which ultimately found their way to the Long Island Sound and its watershed. Additionally, excessive use of residential fertilizer products combined with the spraying to create the Sound’s toxic mix.
Unbeknownst to many, American lobsters belong to the same phylum as shelled insects such as mosquitos and grasshopper which could hint as to why lobsters were so acutely effected. It is hypothesized that in addition to killing the West Nile carriers, the chemicals were equally effective at incapacitating the Sound’s resident crustaceans.
Along with the decimation of the Long Island Sound’s lobster stock came the death of Connecticut’s lobstering industry. Lobstermen have been forced to expand their target catch, and in many cases leave the water altogether. While their fellow fishermen to the north have experienced season after season of success, the Connecticut lobsterman has been plagued by empty traps and become a dying breed.
All hope is not lost however. Last year’s passing of law banning the use of pesticides in the Long Island Sound watershed has put an end to the harmful spraying and represents the first step in growing the state’s depleted lobster stock. While it may never return to the quantity of decades past, the future of the American lobster in the Long Island Sound is finally looking bright once again.
John Haffey Jr. is a Norwalk resident and Long Island Sound enthusiast and has navigated and fished Coastal Connecticut for years.
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