Long Island Sound Lobster Research Initiative

How is Sea Grant and others addressing LI Sound's lobster declines and sicknesses?

In mid-June 2001, over $3.5 million in research grants were awarded to 17 science research teams in seven states, to determine the causes behind the 1999-2000 winter die-off in Long Island Sound's lobster fishery. Funds were made available through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the National Sea Grant College Program, and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. An additional 2 projects were funded through other monies ($2.6M) for resource assessment and monitoring through the Connecticut Department of Enviromental Protection (CTDEP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

The research is funded jointly under the Long Island Sound Lobster Research Initiative, an endeavor of the Sea Grant programs in Connecticut and New York, along with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The Initiative is being overseen by the ad hoc Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) Lobster Steering Committee, which was appointed under ASMFC American Lobster Management Board.

Why were new funds earmarked to study sick and dying lobsters in LI Sound?

Responding to requests from the governors of both Connecticut and New York, then Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley declared the lobster resource in Long Island Sound a commercial fishing failure using the "resource disaster" clauses of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act on January 26, 2000. Lobsters, seawater, and sediments were tested for toxins, but nothing unusual was found. Pathologists from the University of Connecticut conducting necropsies on sick lobsters and discovered parasitic paramoebae in their nervous tissues. It was unclear, however, whether the paramoeba was the primary cause of the lobster deaths, or whether other stressors were also involved. This is why special funds were earmarked for further research studies.

How did this new lobster funding help form the LI Sound Lobster Initiative?

The Long Island Sound Lobster Research Initiative was established after a July 2000 Congressional allocation of $6.6 million in federal funds to NOAA for scientific research into the causes of the die-off, and monitor stock recovery. The State of Connecticut's Long Island Sound Research Fund being administered by Connecticut State's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also contributed $1 million to the research initiative, bringing the total disaster response budget to $7.6 million.

Approximately $840,000 of the federal research funds support two projects administered by NMFS. New York and Connecticut Sea Grant programs each identified six research projects (for a total of twelve projects) that they are sponsoring. These federal research funds also include $165,000 to each Sea Grant program to communicate the research findings to lobster fishermen, resource managers, and the public. In addition to these research projects, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection is funding three projects.

The awards resulted from a national competition of research projects to investigate the causes of mortality and shell disease in Long Island Sound lobsters. The funded research will investigate many different factors on an ecosystem-wide basis. These include disease-causing organisms, pesticides, pollution, lobster crowding, water quality conditions including elevated temperatures and changes in salinity, and environmental conditions such as storm events.

The federal funds also include $2.6 million to the States of Connecticut and New York for two projects to assess the status and recovery of the lobster stocks (overseen by CTDEP and NYSDEC). Other collaborators include representatives of Long Island Sound lobster fishing organizations and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

An additional $7.3 million in federal funds was also allocated for economic assistance to the affected lobster fishermen. Lobsters are the most economically important marine species harvested in New York, while in Connecticut, lobsters are second only to bivalve shellfish. Landings declined in the fall of 1999 by as much as 90 percent, forcing many of the Sound's more than 300 lobstermen to cease their lobster fishing operations. Lobsters continue to be harvested from Long Island Sound in reduced numbers, mainly from central and eastern areas, but officials still don't know what caused the die-off.

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