Are pesticides used to kill sea lice in Bay of Fundy salmon pens also killing lobsters?

The Fundy North Fishermen’s Association (FNFA), based in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, believes they are, according to Sheena Young, FNFA program director.

But the Atlantic Canada Fish Farmers Association (ACFFA), based in, Letang, New Brunswick, maintains that the lobsters are dying from other causes, according to Pamela Parker, ACFFA executive director.

Tests conducted in the area by Environment Canada (EC) on October 27 produced the following results, according to their spokesman Mark Johnson. Johnson said, “Environment Canada’s environmental enforcement officers were on site October 27, 2010, to monitor compliance with the Fisheries Act during an in-pen treatment of sea lice using tarps and the chemical bath AlphaMax. Enforcement officers used three sets of lobsters to assess the impact of the AlphaMax product on non-target species outside the treatment pen.”

He explained, “The first set of 30 lobsters were a negative control group placed outside the reach of the plume resulting from the in-pen treatment using AlphaMax. These lobsters showed no impact from the chemical bath.”

Johnson continued: “The second set of 30 lobsters were a positive control placed directly inside the treatment pen. All of the lobsters in this group died following exposure to the AlphaMax treatment.”

He concluded: “The third set of 60 lobsters were attached to buoys and drifted with the plume leaving the pen. Ninety minutes after the AlphaMax treatment all 60 lobsters within the plume were classified by a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) biologist as either dead (70% of them) or dying. The surviving lobsters were taken to DFO’s lab in St. Andrews and placed in clean sea water, but they subsequently died overnight.”

FNFA’s Young said of the Environment Canada’s tests, “We express full support for Environment Canada’s work.”

She added, “We have been told repeatedly by the aquaculture industry and by the Province of New Brunswick that pesticides are ‘used up’ by the time the tarps are released and the effluent is not harmful to marine life. We now have reason to doubt this claim.”

Young continued, “The lobsters used in the study were 1½- to 2-pound lobsters. Although such a large lobster is generally not found floating or swimming near the sea surface, all stages of lobster larvae live as part of the plankton floating at the surface. Larval and juvenile lobsters are much more susceptible to pesticides such as AlphaMax than adult lobsters. If the pesticide kills adult lobsters it will certainly kill young lobsters.”

ACFFA’s Parker clearly is not applauding the Environment Canada tests.

“I have been told that Environment Canada enforcement officers did put lobsters directly inside a net pen during a tarp treatment and, following release of the tarp after the treatment was completed, towed lobster in cages behind a boat for over 2 hours in areas where they suspected the treatment product might be present,” she said.

Parker continued, “The EC activity was not based on a real life scenario on how we use the treatment product (i.e. We do everything we can to make sure lobster are not exposed to the product) nor on the natural positioning of the lobster (on the sea bed).

She added, “We were not present during this exercise, nor have we been informed on the results, so I don’t feel qualified to comment. What I can say is that we are not confident that this project followed the methodology generally accepted and used in sentinel species research. This is research we had intended to conduct again this year (we did this research on farms last year) in collaboration with DFO and the Province of New Brunswick researchers.”

Young responded, “These lobsters were not dragged for two and a half hours as Ms. Parker claims. A boat was used to divert the floating buoys away from adjacent cages and then released to float freely again.

As for Parker’s criticism that the tests were not conducted in a real-life scenario Young said, “A real-life scenario would likely yield much worse results than what was seen that day.”

She concluded, “We applaud Environment Canada for protecting the marine ecosystem and our local fishing communities that depend on its health.”

Bob Gustafson is a freelance writer who lives in Eastport.