HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut environmental officials are trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious decline in the Long Island Sound lobster population that has left a local fishing industry on the verge of collapse, officials said Tuesday.
The lobster haul from the sound has shriveled from 3.7 million pounds in 1998 to 142,000 pounds last year, with the crustaceans turning limp and dying in large numbers each late summer.
The testing and analysis of lobsters from across the sound by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will focus on stress factors such as warm water temperatures and the presence of pesticides.
“We are now developing the procedures and protocols for a study that will rely on a Sound-wide sampling of lobsters and sophisticated laboratory tests to obtain a better understanding of why this species — and an industry it has historically supported — is now in danger of collapse in Long Island Sound,” DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty said.
The local lobster population has been declining steadily since the late 1990s. The hardest hit areas are the central and western sound, where officials say landings have fallen by 99 percent since 1998.
More than 300 lobstermen plied the sound in the 1990s, but their numbers have dwindled to only a few dozen in recent years.
Some fishermen blame the die-off on the use of methoprene, a pesticide used to kill mosquitoes that may carry the West Nile virus. Legislation to restrict use of the pesticide in coastal areas was approved in the Connecticut House of Representatives this year but it did not come up for a vote in the state Senate.
Previous studies have not provided evidence to determine what is causing the deaths.