Connecticut environmental officials still believe in the global warming theory, and doubt that those insidious pesticides are a significant lobster threat.
Dave Simpson, director of marine fisheries for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), says a new study of the pesticide problem in the Sound is warranted because those recent test results were so unusual.
"This is the first time to my knowledge that pesticides have been shown to occur in lobsters," he says. "We thought it appropriate to see how pervasive a problem it is in lobsters."
"Temperature stress is the primary cause of the die-off," Simpson says. "What we found [in those latest tests on a very few ill lobsters] doesn't change our conclusion."
Not long after DEEP officials announced this month they'd found pesticides in sick lobsters, they put out a follow-up notice to seafood dealers. They wanted to make sure that people understood that "there is no reason to make any changes in the consumption or sale of Connecticut lobsters" based on the results of the latest tests.
Simpson insists it's an over-simplification to say these pesticides are lobster killers. He argues that there is still no evidence that the infinitesimal amounts of methoprene and resmethrin found so far are deadly to lobsters.
Connecticut lobstermen like Crismale have lost faith in the ability of the DEEP to handle the lobster crisis in the Sound.
Last December, a committee of Connecticut and New York lobster industry folks that answers to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met in this state to talk about possible solutions. The commission is now proposing increased limitations on lobster harvesting in the Sound, including having a September-November ban on taking any lobsters in those waters.
Although it wasn't on the committee's agenda, those present unanimously agreed on a vote of "no confidence" in the ability of the DEEP to manage Connecticut's lobster fishery. "There were some angry guys there," says Crismale, who is co-chairman of that panel.
Simpson says he understands the anger that led to that vote. "There's been a 99 percent decline in the resource they used to make their living off of," he says. "I think it reflects the frustration of a few members of that industry."
When it comes to the pesticide issue, the reasons for that frustration are clear.
In April 2000, shortly after the huge lobster die-off occurred, an eminent University of Connecticut researcher named Hans Laufer suggested that the widespread use of methoprene in New York's anti-mosquito campaign could be the cause. The chemical prevents mosquito larvae from molting and developing into adults — and the fear is the insect-like lobsters suffer the same fate.
New York was using tons of the stuff and Connecticut was following suit, dumping methoprene in storm drains and catch basins to halt the spread of West Nile virus.
During the 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Agency's fact sheet on methoprene listed the chemical as "acutely toxic to estuarine and marine invertebrates." That reference was deleted from the EPA's description in 2001.
Crismale says a 2003 study provided more evidence of the potential harmful effects of methoprene on lobsters.
But studies in Massachusetts and a 2008 report on research in Rhode Island waters appeared to back up Connecticut DEEP's contention that methoprene wasn't a major threat to lobster reproduction.
The latest tests by Connecticut researchers used new techniques that could detect pesticide concentrations as low as 1.5 parts per billion – ten times as sensitive as previous studies. And that's how they were able to find the methoprene and resmethrin in those sick Sound lobsters.
"I really don't have a lot of faith in these researchers any more," says Crismale.
"Now DEEP is telling us we have to study it again," he sighs. "How much longer do they want to study it? Two years, three years? We'll all be out of business by then."
In fact, Crismale says he's basically already done with lobsters. The boats he operates out of Branford harbor are now being used for clamming.
"I haven't been lobstering for a year," he explains. "There's just no product there."