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Penobscot River. (Photo Credit: SarekOfVulcan/CC BY-SA 2.0) )

Lobster closure due to mercury contamination in Maine

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Monday, February 24, 2014, 03:40 (GMT + 9)

The area of ​​the Penobscot River was closed to lobster fishing, because high levels of mercury were found in these crustaceans.

The mercury contamination came to light after a court order a study related to a federal lawsuit which was brought by the Maine People's Alliance and the Council of the Natural Resources Defence against Mallinckrodt Inc., a company that owns a factory in the mouth of Penobscot River, area now closed for harvesting lobsters and crabs.

Environmentalists have warned for years that the plant’s former owner, HoltraChem, dumped mercury into the Penobscot River.

Local fishermen highlighted they knew that environmental groups and the state had been doing studies for years, but they had hear nothing until last month when the tests showed unsafe mercury levels in lobsters and crabs.

About 270 licensed commercial and recreational harvesters work in the area and are potentially affected by the closure, according to the Department of Marine Resources.

Lobsters are gathered across more than 14,000 square miles in the Gulf of Maine, and their catch was valued at USD 340 million in 2012. Figures for year 2013 are not yet available, Press Heralds informed.

Locals wonder why it took so long for the state to react, given the reports and studies by environmental organizations and the state itself.

However, Chris Whipple, a member of the Penobscot River Mercury Study Panel said that Maine’s slow reaction might have been due to the court proceedings, which prevented researchers, intervening in the study order by the court, from publishing their results or presenting them without court permission, San Francisco Chronicle informs.

The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, the trade group for lobstermen, said the mercury levels were similar to those found in canned tuna.

Both local residents and fishermen are worried about the damage the closure will cause to the brand as Maine lobsters consumers regularly ignore if they came from the area that has been closed.

Besides, lobsters are highly migratory. In contrast, crabs move a little, but they are not as migratory as lobsters.


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