Maine: 2013 Study Was First To Show Contaminated Lobster
Portland, Maine — The Maine Department of Marine Resources said Friday that it did not react earlier to elevated levels of mercury reported in the Penobscot River as part of a federally mandated study because it was first made aware of “actionable levels” of contamination in lobsters in November 2013.
Chris Whipple, one of three scientists from the Penobscot River Mercury Study who told The Associated Press Thursday that state officials were briefed about mercury-contaminated lobster in 2010, said on Friday that the data “available at the time of the 2010 meeting did not include lobster.”
Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols said that a review of the 2010 presentation provided by the federally mandated study confirmed “the first time the state was made aware of actionable levels in lobster was last year.”
Whipple said that he consulted with other researchers on the study on Friday to review what was presented in the 2009 report shown at the meeting. He refused to provide a copy of the presentation because he said it has not been made publicly available by the courts as part of a lawsuit involving the now-closed HoltraChem Manufacturing Co. plant in Orrington.
“The one thing I want to clear up is the fact that we had no lobster data in the area were the ban on crab and lobster fishing was just implemented,” he said.
Whipple said that the report did show elevated mercury levels in the water, along with plant and animal life.
Drew Bodaly, the study’s project leader, and biologist Dianne Kopec, did not return messages seeking comment from The Associated Press Friday.
The Department of Marine Resources said it was told of the most recent phase of the study by the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and then enacted an emergency closure to the 7-square-mile area at the mouth of the Penobscot River that takes effect today and will last for a minimum of two years.
Portions of the study showing elevated toxins in the water, plants and sediment were made public had been previously posted on the Maine Department of the Environmental Protection website.
There are about 10 part- and fulltime lobstermen who fish in the closure area, according to David Black, a lobsterman out of Belfast for more than 50 years.
“One of the problems that I see is that the small number of fishermen in the area have to pay the price,” he said.
Black said he thought negative publicity would blow over by this summer, when most lobsters are caught. Dianne Parker, 54, co-owner of Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast, agreed.
“I don’t think it’s going to affect us in a large way,” she said. “I think the biggest thing’s that it’s being publicized that there’s mercury in the lobster.”
The Maine Department of Resources has emphasized that the closure area is a fraction of the 14,000 square miles in the gulf of Maine where lobsters are harvested.
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, one of the largest fishing organizations in Maine, supports the closure as a precautionary measure that protects consumers and the lobster brand, even though the association said in a news release that the contaminated lobster contain only as much mercury as a can of white chunk tuna.