June 20, 2019

Lobster deaths in Sound puzzle marine experts

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Hundreds of thousands of lobsters are dying in Long Island Sound and marine experts do not know why.

As many as a million lobsters have died in the Sound in recent weeks. Marine officials in both Connecticut and New York said Friday that up to 13 percent of the lobsters are dying in traps or on the docks.

Fisheries officials in New York and Connecticut said it’s too soon to tell what’s killing the lobsters, but there appears to be no threat to humans.

“There is no indication in the literature or with any of the experience that we have that there’s any health hazard in eating a live lobster,” said Ernie Beckwith, director of Marine Fisheries for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“If there’s any concern, purchase a live lobster. Do not purchase one that appears to be dead or dying.”

Tissue samples from dead lobsters have been sent to research centers in Arizona and Maine, and to federal Food and Drug Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C., for testing.

A pathology laboratory operated by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Milford also is testing blood and organ samples from local lobsters.

“We don’t really know what it is at this point,” said Byron Young, chief of the fin fish and crustacean unit of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “It may be some weeks before we have a clue because it takes time to grow cultures for the bacterial and viral tests.”

Most of the deaths are occurring in the stretch of the Sound from Branford to New York.

Fishery biologists in Connecticut and New York have accompanied fishermen to their traps in recent weeks to observe their catches and retrieve samples.

Eight to 10 percent of the lobsters hauled up in New York and 13 percent of those taken in Connecticut were dead in the traps. More died on the docks after they were landed.

The Connecticut DEP also trawled for lobsters earlier this month and found about 5 percent of the catch dead off Norwalk and Greenwich, but lobsters off Bridgeport appeared to be healthy, according to Eric Smith, of the DEP’s Marine Fisheries unit in Old Lyme.

A smaller die-off with similar symptoms occurred in the Sound in 1992 and briefly during the fall of 1998.

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