- (Note - During our
10-25-99 program on Plum Island, researcher
Patty Doyle disclosed that
a major undersea trench had recently been dug
in the seabed from the
mainland to Plum Island to lay power and/or telecom
cabling. It was
theorized that this digging might have disturbed and dislodged
materials. The program is available in our broadcast.com
- NEW YORK - Lobstering can
be "a very weird industry,"
according to John Carbone, a lobsterman
based near Huntington, New
- Carbone recalls a time ten years ago when he and others
daily hauling up 300 pounds of lobsters. Then one day, the lobsters
stopped appearing and crabs were filling the traps. The following morning,
the crabs had vanished, but the lobsters were back.
- "It was like it never
happened," he said. "There's
just no figuring it
- This season, the Long Island crustaceans have posed another,
more troubling mystery.
- Starting in September, lobstermen began hauling traps
full of dead and dying lobsters off Long Island Sound. There was no sign
of odd coloring or shell deterioration in the dead lobsters and the dying
lobsters displayed no symptoms besides lethargy.
- Carbone, who has stopped taking
his boat out for now
except to maintain his traps, calculates he was
losing at least 10 percent
of his catch. Marine officials in New York
and Connecticut estimate the
plague has killed off tens of thousands of
lobsters and describe it as
the worst to hit Long Island Sound in
nearly a decade.
- So far, no one knows why the lobsters are
- "There's no smoking gun and we don't have a good
clue as to what to look for," said Byron Young, chief of the Fin Fish
and Crustacean unit at the New York Department of Conservation.
- One of the first
factors researchers looked into was
the possibility that malathion
spraying " carried out over a month
ago to ward off virus-carrying
mosquitoes " may have seeped into the
waters and poisoned the
- "Lobsters are sensitive to so many things,"
Robert Bayer, director of the Lobster Institute at the University
Maine. "Anything that will kill an insect will kill a
- Butwhen Bayer tested samples taken from waters hosting
lobsters, he found no traces of the pesticide. "We've pretty
ruled that possibility out," he said.
- Lobsters are also vulnerable to
viruses and bacteria
and, Bayer explained, the insectlike creatures can
catch a bug in many
different ways. Lobsters are known to attack and
eat each other if held
too long in a trap and often a lobster's shell
is broken during these clashes.
Infectious microorganisms can then
enter the lobster's system through these
- Bacteria and viruses may also
infect a lobster through
its gills, which are located under its body
shell. Occasionally a lobster
can catch a bug through feeding, although
its stomach acids are toxic enough
to kill most pathogens.
- Bayer examined blood
taken from the sick Long Island
lobsters to look for common infections
such as Gaffkemia, a bacteria that
has turned up in lobsters since the
1960s. He also looked for signs of
Ciliated Protozoans, a pathogen that
began afflicting New York lobsters
in 1990. Tests for both pathogens
turned up negative.
- Meanwhile, Richard Robohm, chief of biotechnology at
the National Marine Fisheries Service lab in Milford, CT, has scoured Long
Island lobster specimens for other bacteria.
- "We isolated two kinds of
bacteria, but when we
injected them into healthy lobsters, they proved
harmless," he said
with a sigh. "At this point it seems it's
not a bacterial infection."
- The only other possibilities
that remain are either an
undetected virus infected the animals or some
unknown pollutant in the
sediment or water has weakened and killed
past seasons, low oxygen levels in the Long Island
Sound have killed
off smaller numbers of lobsters. This occurs when massive
die off and decompose in a process that strips oxygen from
Robohm suspects a similar process could be releasing toxic compounds
like hydrogen sulfide and ammonia in the water.
- He explained pollutants lead to
higher levels of organic
material at the ocean bottom. Bacteria feeding
on that material then consume
oxygen and release toxic by-products.
Lobsters, which crawl on ten legs
and scour the ocean floor for food,
are particularly vulnerable to picking
up toxic compounds from the
- "A fish can swim away," he said. "But
problem is lobsters can't get out of the environment fast
- Although the numbers of dead trapped lobsters have seemed
taper off in the past two weeks, Young still hopes to get to the bottom
of the die-off. At risk is Long Island Sound's annual fall run, which
for nearly half the annual income of New York's estimated 900
Such plagues have proven costly in the past. In 1998, a
killed off an estimated $2 million worth of lobsters
- "If we had a clue about what was going on, maybe
do something about it," he said.
- Lobstering is in a lull right
now as the creatures go
through a monthlong molting process. The next
run is expected to start
in November and Carbone is nervous his traps
may turn up empty.
- "We're hoping November is better, but there's no
telling," he said. "I've been in this business 15 years and I
still haven't figured it out. All I know is it's not worth going out and
risking my life, my crew members' lives and my boat for no