(Beyond Pesticides, February 18, 2010) Hundreds of dead and dying lobsters just north of the Gulf of Maine were found to have been exposed to cypermethrin, a highly toxic synthetic pyrethroid pesticide registered for agricultural and residential use that some officials think may have been illegally used in fish farming. However, the chemical, which is primarily used for indoor insect control and termites, is extremely toxic to fish and aquatic organisms and part of a family of pesticides (synthetic pyrethroids) that is increasingly showing up in water bodies at toxic levels, a cause for concern according to scientists.
Area fisherman are angry and concerned, however investigators are not yet certain just how this pesticide wound up in the Bay of Fundy, which is located between the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The first dead lobsters were discovered last fall in Grand Manan’s Seal Cove, and only a few days later fisherman found dead lobsters in two different locations in the Bay, including about 816 kilograms of dying or dead lobsters in Deer Island’s Fairhaven Harbour. This prompted an investigation by Environment Canada that began on December 22, 2009. The department looked at samples of crab, kelp, mussels and lobsters to gather information and concluded that the lobsters were exposed and affected by cypermethrin.
Cypermethrin, an insecticide in the synthetic pyrethroid family, is known to be highly acutely toxic to aquatic life including fish and crustaceans such as lobsters. It is also classified as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to the EPA Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED), signed in 2006, total cypermethrin use in the United States is approximately 1.0 million pounds of active ingredient (a.i.) per year. Approximately 140,000 pounds a.i. are used in agricultural crops, mainly on cotton (110,000 pounds), with minor uses on pecans, peanuts, broccoli and sweet corn. Treatment of cattle and other livestock accounts for approximately 1000 pounds a.i. per year. The great majority of cypermethrin use occurs in non-agricultural settings, including a wide range of commercial, industrial, and residential sites. Indoor pest control -mainly for control of ants, cockroaches, and fleas – accounts for about 110,000 pounds a.i., while outdoor structural, perimeter, and turf uses for control of subterranean termites and other insect pests accounts for nearly 750,000 pounds a.i. In residential settings, cypermethrin can be applied both by professional applicators and by residential users.
According to EPA, when the residential uses of the organophosphates chlorpyrifos and diazinon fell off the market in the first decade of 2000, the residential uses of cypermethrin and other synthetic pyrethroids increased. EPA stated in its RED, “The recent loss of chlorpyrifos and diazinon for residential pest control has resulted in a greater reliance on pyrethrins and synthetic pyrethroids, as a class, among residential users.” Meanwhile, synthetic pyrethroids like cypermethrin are increasingly showing up in water bodies. The study, “Urban and Agricultural Sources of Pyrethroid Insecticides to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California,” in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, documents toxic levels in the water column as well as in the sediments at the bottom of streams.
Members of the Fundy North Fisherman’s Association who are worried about the future of their trade are expressing concerns to all branches of their government in an effort to make sure pesticides do not end up in the bay again. Environment Canada opened up a second investigation on February 10, 2010 and cannot say how long its will take. Bay of Fundy fishermen are immensely worried, however, and want answers before they find more damage.
Maria Recchia, the co-ordinator of the Fundy North Fishermen’s Association, who met with New Brunswick Southwest Member of Parliament Greg Thompson in a closed meeting earlier this week said that the initial findings from Environment Canada are significant. “There have been cases in the past that we’ve suspected chemical use. And this is the first time we have proof.”
Mr. Thompson said that he will ask the parliamentary standing committee on fisheries, as well as the Fisheries Minster Gail Shea, to investigate this issue as well. He believes that the government should look at its own role in regulating fish farming in the Bay of Fundy and that authorities should keep agricultural pesticides out of the Bay of Fundy.
“At the end of the day it’s all about custodial management of our ocean waters and at the end of the day it hurts all of us if good practices are not being observed by all the players including the aquaculture industry,” remarked Mr. Thompson. While there are still no answers as to how the pesticide that is illegal to use in water got into the bay causing the lobster kill, there is speculation that cypermethrin may be used to control sea lice, which is a pest to farmed salmon.
“We know there is no agriculture on Grand Manan or Deer Island, which is where Environment Canada has found evidence of cypermethrin. It was early winter, which is not a time for agriculture. We think the cypermethrin was not being used in the agriculture industry,” said Ms. Recchia. “We don’t think these are isolated incidents. We think this is a widespread problem and we need for the government to take this seriously. We need to find the source of the problem and we need to stop the practice.”
Unfortunately, some fishermen suspect that there may be an even more massive kill than what has been recorded. There is no way to tell how many juvenile lobsters or lobster eggs were killed or affected by the pesticide, because they will not be caught after they die and it takes a very small concentration of the toxic pesticide to kill them. According to Brian Gutpill, president of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, the impact on local fishermen is still small, but that the full effect may not be known for years.
“I am just scared for the future,” said Fisherman Dale Mitchel. He is worried about the potential for more pesticide-related deaths, and whether the bay area can survive without the sustainably run fishery.