Thanks Rochelle for hosting. All links can be fond here. My story this week is 100 words and I will call it Historical Fiction. I normally do not do this but I followed my story up with a little background and personal insight.
Luciano’s fingers, thick as a man’s wrist, were permanently cracked and red. In hypothermic waters he pulled traps as if he were dipping his hands in warm sink water. Luciano and his mate were all that were left. As they worked the lines, with no pilot at the wheel, the diesel powered lobster boat circled on the open water. The sea-bottom, barren since the die off in 1999, robbed them of their life. Luciano would sell the boat, house and move. He wept as trap after trap came up empty.
Washington Post article on the die off.
The Long Island Sound is a living breathing thing, it has a temper but it also can be as kind and giving as a grandmother. I worked as a mate on a lobster boat, it was the hardest, most dangerous jobs I ever did and I loved it. In the middle of the winter we would chip ice off the boat with sledgehammers just so we could go out and set traps. My captain was one of the toughest guys I ever met who would put his life on the line for you without even thinking about it.
The die off in 1999 destroyed the lobster industry here on Long Island. 70 to 90% of the lobsters have vanished from our waters since 1998 and there seems to be no recovery 15 years later. After the die off in 1999 scientist found dead lobsters piled a foot high on the bottom of the Sound. That year there was a major break out of the West Nile Virus which is carried by mosquitoes so they sprayed the coastline heavily with pesticides. Lobsters are basically big under water bugs.
The waters were unusually warm in 99 and were churned up by major storms causing hypoxia. Hypoxia is the lack of oxygen in water often caused by algae growth. Algae grows on top, cuts the sunshine off from reaching the bottom and depletes the water of much needed oxygen. Everything dies.
Some scientist believe the die off was caused by global warming. Since Long Island lobsters are at the southern most extreme edge of their cold water range even a change in water temperature of a few degrees would dramatically decrease their ability to survive. I would bet the die off resulted from a combination of all these factors.
The Captain I worked for blamed the die off on the moratorium that was put on striped bass back in the 70’s and the recovery in the 90′s of these greedy large predators. Whatever it was my captain had to finally sell off his boat and he moved away to Florida. After all those years on the hard sea he finally settled for a warm home far from Long Island.
When most people think of lobsters they think of Maine but the truth is Long Island Sound was basically a lobster ranch before 1999 with 12 lobsters per trap coming over the rail. Typically 11 of those lobsters were shorts that were thrown back. The shorts reentered and fed on the bait in the traps until they grew to full size. Up until 1999 you could buy 5 (1.5 pound) lobsters for 20 dollars. Today on Long Island for the same amount of lobsters you would pay about 90 to 100 dollars.
There are positive stories about the Long Island fisheries. Summer flounder or fluke are making a major recovery. Striped bass are no longer considered an endangered species and the moratorium has been lifted on them. Clams are still here in great numbers, although not as plentiful as they were years ago. So there is hope. There is always hope.
*I added this video to go along with the post after several people had already commented. It’s about the Baymen of Long Island. Not the Lobster men but the idea is the same…it’s about people who make their living by the sea. This is a live version of the song from Yankee stadium by Long Island’s very own Billy Joel.