West Nile and The Western Sound

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.

Copyright - Jan Wayne Fields

 100 words

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.


38 thoughts on “West Nile and The Western Sound

  1. Tom, how lovely and terrible! I’m glad you balanced the sadness of your story with some of the positive happenings. I hope, too, that there continues to be not only hope, but results.


    1. Janet,
      There are results and good ones at that. However the recovery has not happened in the lobster industry. The die off caused hundreds of people to lose their lifestyle they loved. It happened with winter flounder and somewhat with clams. Results would be great but it never seems like enough.


  2. Thank you for sharing this.. I had no idea of this disaster.. just adding to what happened for various reasons around the world… the dying bottoms caused by to much algea occurs in the baltic sadly… no lobsters here to die but many other fishes… well told story…

    1. It so sad to know that terrible things are happening all over the world. It seems everywhere you turn one species or another is being affected by mankind. I try and stay positive but at the same time it is hard to ignore the terrible things around us. I am glad I brought this to your attention and I will look into the Baltic Sea to educate myself on what is going on over there.

    1. Thanks Bill. Your story has hit a spot with me and I keep thinking about it but have not wrote back yet. An excellent job this week.

  3. Hi Tom,
    Great environmental theme and with your recent MLK story, I’m coming to realize how strongly you are committed to causes. Thanks for the link to the story and I wonder how long it will be until our appetite for “unlimited shrimp” and other ocean life combined with global warming does exactly what you are describing here. Bravo for you. Ron

    1. Hey Ron,
      You know I grew up on this Island. I have been eating raw clams and seafood since I was just a kid. I am a recreational fisherman and lover of seafood but I have put limits on myself that go beyond law and the “norm”. I no longer buy store bought flounder, I eat no bill fish and I refuse to eat mako sharks. I love the taste of a mako steak or swordfish but for reasons of my own I do not eat them anymore. I feel they are over-fished so I put my money where my mouth is and I refuse to eat some and buy others. When I fish I mostly catch and release and I do release far more than I take. I play by the rules when it comes to fishing. As far as racism and MLK I am strongly opposed to racism. The problem with causes is they often can go too far. It is often hard to judge what the right thing to do is. Like most people I am just trying to do what I think is right.

  4. Dear Tom,

    Strong and vivid descriptions drew me in. “Fingers, thick as a man’s wrist…” I could see those cracked hands. Your empathy in this story is apparent. Good job. Thank you for sharing the article that ends with a hopeful note. I really have nothing to criticize.



    1. Rochelle,
      “The article” with the hopeful ending was just my two cents. I am glad you liked it but I fel a little cheated without some criticism. There is always next time I suppose. Thanks.

  5. I really enjoyed your story. I think when they’re drawn from personal experience it comes through the words. And I felt that, as if I was there. One of the dearest men I knew was an Alaskan fisherman and boat builder. You made me think of him this morning. So thank you.

    I also love learning a little bit about history. I am glad you shared.

    1. That is perhaps one of the best things you can say to me. I am glad I made you think of your dear friend. Thanks so much for commenting and stopping in.


  6. Very nice, imaginative story! I will follow your blog and invite you to follow mine! beebeesworld

  7. Tom PPPP!
    It’s stories like this that make me glad I follow my Native American ancestors in that they give back to mother nature as much or more than they take. More people should do this. It saddens me to know wildlife is dying and most do nothing. Like you I can only stand by my convictions and do my part. Strong emotional story Tom and a great added piece after.

    1. Jackie PPPPPPPP,
      I couldn’t agree with your more Jackie. I do my best as I wish others would do. Some people simply do not care and will take and take as if there is an endless bounty. I am glad you enjoyed my story and the added piece. Stick to your convictions and continue to pass them on to others. The world needs more people like you.


  8. Dear Tom,

    That song is one of my very favorites and I want to thank you for adding it to the end of your post. The last line of your story is going to be our story, i fear, as we reap the whirlwind we’ve sown and continue to sow through overfishing and under-awareness of our effect on the fragile ecosystems that form the food chain of the oceans.

    This was one of your best stories. Heartfelt and told from the harrowing perspective of one who knows. I fear for our future because I think, based on all that I have learned over the years, that it is going to take a ‘die off’ of humans to restore balance to the equation.

    Is that a picture of you on the stern?



    1. Dear Doug,
      That is not a picture of me on the stern. I was trying to find a picture of an open stern lobster boat and in the short time I had that was the best one I could come up with. I sing that Billy Joel song from the top of my lungs when ever I hear it. Even live the man sounds awesome….they don’t make too many performers like him! A die off of humans may be just what mother nature has in store for us. One way or another humanity will be brought to it’s knees by the forces of nature. Thanks for the kind words. Let’s hope the balance doesn’t come at the cost of the whole human race.


  9. Tom, strong story! I really enjoyed it, even though it’s such a sad depiction of what’s happening to our oceans. I hope things can turn around. How dreadful that must be for the fishermen to raise empty trap after trap.

    1. Amy,
      I don’t know if you clicked on the link for the Washington Post story. Most of these fisherman are some of the toughest guys you will ever meet and after watching trap after trap come up empty some of them did cry. Sad indeed. Ruined families. Very sad.


  10. Tom,
    I think we were channeling a similar muse on this one, although yours hits a lot closer to home considering it’s based on a true story. (By the way, I think the image evoked by the phrase “fingers, thick as a man’s wrist” is stuck in my head now. It’s a rather terrifying image. 🙂 )

    1. David,
      There is an Irish song called Strong Man, I believe…one of the lines goes “he had an arm like a leg and a punch that could sink a battleship”. So when ever I think of the captain that is the image and line that comes into my head. He was a tough motha!

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