Pesticide Poisoning of Lobsters Leads to Indictment

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 14, 2011.  Environment Canada’s enforcement division has indicted the multinational firm Cooke Aquaculture and three of its senior officials on eleven criminal charges stemming from illegal pesticide applications that spread to sicken and kill wild lobsters. The indictment alleges that in 2009 Cooke applied cypermethrin, a pesticide prohibited for use in aquatic settings in Canada, to control sea lice infestations in open water salmon net pens. The alleged applications occurred in the Passamaquoddy Bay which separates the Canadian province of New Brunswick from Maine and feeds into the Bay of Fundy. After dead and weakened lobsters were discovered in Canadian waters in the fall of 2009 and early 2010, Environment Canada linked the incidents to cypermethrin exposure and raided eight Cooke facilities. A conviction on the first count could result in a fine of $1 million with subsequent counts punishable by a $1 million fine or three years in prison, or both.

Cypermethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid used for insect control in a number of agricultural and structural pest management settings. EPA has identified cypermethrin as a possible human carcinogen and classifies formulated pesticides containing it as slightly or moderately toxic. According to Susan Shaw, Ph.D., director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill, Maine, cypermethrin and similar pesticides are extremely toxic to lobsters and other marine species, especially crustaceans. “It’s a very toxic substance and just does not belong in the marine environment,” Dr. Shaw said. “The oceans are under siege from so many problems. This is just unacceptable.” Despite these concerns, EPA allows aquatic applications of cypermethrin to control sea lice, parasitic crustaceans that attach themselves to the skin of juvenile salmon causing lesions resulting in disease and mortality for the fish. In 2010, Cooke used the brand-name pesticide Excis, which contains cypermethrin, at 59 of the 76 salmon production pens that it operates in Maine.

While aquaculture has the potential to lessen pressure on severely stressed wild fish populations, poorly designed and managed systems repeat the mistakes commonly seen in industrial-style livestock production. Crowding an excessive number of fish into an unnatural habitat creates a breeding ground for pests and diseases which producers treat with prophylactic doses of medications, including antibiotics. Sea lice, for example, were known to afflict wild runs of Atlantic salmon, but did not become an economically significant pest until the introduction of large-scale net pen production systems. Routine treatment with pesticides such as cypermethrin and antibiotics to minimize the symptoms of an unhealthy environment results in accelerated pest resistance and prompts producers to employ increasingly toxic compounds.

Residues from these medications along with fish excrement and excess feed are released into open water with often severe environmental consequences, especially for benthic organisms, which live in, on, or near the bottom of aquatic environments, such as lobsters. Many commercial aquaculture operations, including salmon production systems, utilize large amounts of wild captured fish that are processed for use as feed. Numerous traditional cultures developed aquaculture systems utilizing natural inputs and ecological cycles to raise high quality food with minimal adverse environmental impact. The USDA National Organic Standards Board is currently considering materials/substances to be allowed in certified organic aquaculture systems, after the Board adopted standards for these systems in 2007-8.

A statement released by Cooke Aquaculture CEO Glenn Cooke on November 3 cites legal constraints in declining to respond to the specific charges in the indictment. Mr. Cooke stated, “I can tell you that the substance they are talking about is something that is used regularly for agricultural purposes and on golf courses. Salmon farmers in many other countries are authorized to use it. We continue to encourage our governments to approve the treatment and management tools that our fish health and farming teams need to protect the health of our fish.”

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. The great majority of cypermethrin use occurs in non-agricultural settings, including 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.

However, despite the widespread use of these chemicals, the deleterious and often fatal effects of pesticides on non-target organisms are a chronic problem associated with releasing these toxic products into the environment. Aquatic environments are a common destination for pesticides that either run-off from terrestrial applications or are applied directly to water and the amount of pesticides found in American waterways is increasing. There is mounting evidence that pesticides used to control mosquito-borne West Nile virus are contributing to the decline of marine organisms, including lobsters.

Legal proceedings will commence in the New Brunswick provincial court in St. Stephen on December 13.

Source: Bangor Daily News, beyondpesticides.org

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.