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Mystery of Maine lobsters dying in thousands

A MYSTERY plague has struck the lobster population off the coast of Maine in the northeastern United States, baffling marine researchers and spreading fear among lobstermen that their multimillion-dollar industry may be on the brink of disaster.

Huge numbers of lobsters, together worth about $2m (pounds 1.8m), have been found dead or diseased in their traps or in pounds where they are stored before being sold for market. With no clear indication of what is causing the illness, the problem seems to be spreading and getting worse .

"We know that lobsters are dying, but we don't know what's going on precisely," Robert Bayer of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine told the Boston Globe yesterday.

Researchers suspect that the lobsters have become infected with several strains of bacteria at once.

Lobstermen in Maine bring in crustaceans each year worth $130m and provide a quarter of the entire North American harvest in Canada and the US. They are nervous not only that the wastage will erode revenues but also that news of the plague will spread alarm among the public and puncture sales. Some lobstermen are finding a dozen dead or diseased lobsters every day.

Mr Bayer said there was no need for alarm among consumers, noting that the dead or infected are thrown away and any bacteria would be killed when the lobsters are boiled.

"The lobsters going to market are fine and I would eat them every night if I could afford to," he said.

"It's not a human health problem, but we know it's not going to be perceived well by the public."