(Beyond Pesticides, October 19, 2010) In addition to the ongoing investigation into the death of nearly 1,000 lobsters last fall around waters in New England and Canada, Environment Canada is now investigating the possible release of a pesticide that is not permitted for use in Canada. The pesticide, cypermethrin, is used in the U.S., including Maine, to control sea lice outbreaks in salmon farms, a practice under investigation. Cypermethrin is toxic to lobsters, and fishermen associations have been calling for the elimination of the use of pesticides in the marine environment.
Fish farmers have been challenged in controlling sea lice outbreaks this summer, particularly in the upper Passamaquoddy Bay area. They have been using other chemicals to control the outbreaks, including hydrogen peroxide, Salmosan (azamethiphos), SLICE (emamectin benzoate) and Calicide (teflubenzuron). New Brunswick aquaculture organizations have maintained that fish farmers do not use cypermethrin, which is not permitted for use there. The New Brunswick Salmon Growers Association referred to the cocktail of pesticides used on salmon farms as “medicine” and referred to salmon farming techniques as “natural.” However, shoddy farming practices, such as growing too many fish per site and having too many sites in the same area, can lead to the sea lice infestations. The salmon farming industry relies on chemicals to then control the problems that result from their practices.
Although cypermethrin’s use in the marine environment is prohibited in Canada, the pesticide is permitted under certain restrictions for use at salmon farms in Maine, under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Investigational New Animal Drug (INAD) program. 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.
Throughout the winter and spring Environment Canada and provincial and federal partners monitored salmon sites for illegal usage of pesticides, according to Robert Robichaud, operations manager for the district of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for Environment Canada’s environmental enforcement branch. During May, July, August and September, the department conducted routine and sporadic inspections at sites to verify compliance. Lab results from samples taken in May and July showed that farms owned by Northern Harvest Sea Farms and Ocean Legacy, which are headquartered in Letang, had detectable levels of cypermethrin in fish samples. Those results triggered the opening of two more investigations on September 8 and the issuing on September 22 of the nspector’s directions to those two companies, ordering them to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to prevent the release of substances that are harmful to fish into fish-bearing waters.
Along with the two new investigations, Environment Canada is continuing to conduct two investigations into the lobster deaths last fall, with one investigation into the cause of dead lobsters found near Seal Cove, Grand Manan (opened on December 22), and another concerning the lobster deaths near Fairhaven, Deer Island (opened on February 10). So far, Environment Canada is only indicating that the lobsters were exposed to cypermethrin and is not commenting on the cause of the deaths.
Environment Canada will not release the location of the companies’ farm sites or the number of farms that had detectable levels of cypermethrin in fish samples. However, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture’s listing of marine aquaculture sites, Ocean Legacy has a site located near Back Bay that is off the western side of Frye Island and just north of Douglas Island. Northern Harvest has three salmon farms at Harbour de Loutre, Campobello; a single farm site off the western side of Deer Island, just north of Davidson’s Head near Hersonville; a farm in upper Passamaquoddy Bay, just north of McCann Head, St. Andrews; two farms just east of Frye Island in Bliss Harbour; and a farm in Letang Harbour.