AUGUSTA — A bill designed to protect Maine’s $340 million lobster industry by banning two pesticides that have been partially blamed for decimating lobster populations in New York and Connecticut is facing a headwind in the Legislature.
L.D. 1678 is sponsored by Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle. It would prohibit the use of methoprene and resmethrin, chemicals that were used during a massive mosquito spraying operation in 1999 to combat an outbreak of West Nile in areas along Long Island Sound.
Shortly thereafter, a severe die-off of lobsters wiped out the fishery there, although warming ocean temperatures and other factors are also believed to have played a role.
Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, told lawmakers on the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Committee on Thursday that Maine should join Connecticut and ban the two chemicals, traces of which were found in dead lobsters studied in the sound.
“Whatever we apply in the terrestrial environment eventually makes its way to the coast and out to sea,” Devin said.
“The cigarette butt you saw this morning on the sidewalk will end up in the Kennebec River and then flow down to the ocean. Insecticides … all end up in our ocean.”
The proposal, however, lacks the support of the LePage administration and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, a trade group representing the industry. Patrice McCarron, the association’s executive director, told lawmakers Thursday that lobstermen are concerned about pesticides, but worry that banning methoprene and resmethrin could give a “false sense of security” while ignoring other chemicals that could be more harmful to lobsters.
McCarron said the association supports a more comprehensive analysis to determine which pesticides, if any, are affecting a fishery that pumps $1.7 billion into the state economy, according to estimates by the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine.
Such an analysis may be on the horizon.
The Department of Marine Resources, which oversees the lobster fishery, and other stakeholders are discussing whether to conduct a sediment survey of Casco Bay.
The study could be part of an assessment of the risk of all pesticides, not just methoprene and resmethrin.
The assessment would be overseen by the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, which regulates chemical use and helps set policy.
Henry Jennings, director of the pesticide control board, told lawmakers Thursday that the two chemicals have not been used by government agencies in Maine.
But the state would want the chemicals available for use if there is an outbreak of a mosquito-born disease such as West Nile, he said.
Jennings also said that recent studies have concluded that linking the two pesticides to the Long Island Sound lobster die-off was “fundamentally flawed.”
He warned that banning the chemicals in Maine could have unintended consequences.
“Banning chemicals without a careful assessment of what products will take their place is never sound publicly policy,” he said. “It generally leads to the use of higher-risk products in their place.”
He added that although Connecticut instituted a similar ban, the study lawmakers there used to justify it has since been invalidated.
No environmental groups testified Thursday.
Methoprene and resmethrin are commonly used in flea and tick control medicine for pets. The Maine Veterinary Medical Association opposes the bill.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: