Researchers will spend three years studying the potential impact agricultural pesticides may be having on lobster in the Northumberland Strait.

Dr. Michael van den Heuvel is the University of Prince Edward Island's Canada Research Chair in Watershed Ecological Integrity and the principal investigator with the project.

"The lobster populations in the Northumberland Strait have been collapsed for quite a number of years, and no amount of fisheries measures seem to have improved that," said Dr. van den Heuvel. 

"The conclusion is that there are other influencing factors that are not coming from the strait itself. They're, in fact, coming from the surrounding land."

The study is being funded by the Strategic Partnership Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). It will involve partners from UPEI, the PEI Fishermen's Association and Homarus Inc., a non-profit organization managed by the Maritime Fishermen's Union.

Dr. van den Heuvel  said estuaries and coastal zones are under environmental pressure due to urban development, agriculture, and climate change. He notes that in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, this is of special concern.

"The uniqueness of that area is mainly because of the proximity to shore on both sides," said PEIFA president Craig Avery.

"You have a lot more contaminants, a lot more run-off, and you have them coming from both sides. The strait is right there, and there's nowhere else for it to go."

The contaminants that are the most concern are pesticides that are highly toxic to invertebrates, especially crustaceans such as lobster.

Homarus Inc. research scientist Dr.Dounia Daoud said they are interested in any effect that could potentially be an explanation. 

"It could be temperature. It could be pesticides. It could be acidification. We are studying all of those aspects," said Dr.  Daoud

"I am proud that the fishermen are taking care of their resource. I think it's important. They are at the origin of our involvement of this project. It's original and new that fishermen are taking care of the future."

Dr. van den Heuvel said the three year project will try to determine if pesticides are having an influence on organisms in the Northumberland Strait. 

"The project will also establish new long-term monitoring methods to improve our understanding of how the environment changes in response to activity on land," said Dr. van den Heuvel.

A number of UPEI professors and student researchers from various fields will be working on the project.

UPEI YouTube video

Could farm pesticides be hurting lobster?