Narragansett, R.I. Four years after a barge spilled its load of oil into Block Island Sound and killed off marine life, the government is restocking the waters with 1.25 million female lobsters.
with V-shaped notches cut in their tails to mark them as off-limits to lobstermen -- are expected to yield 9 million offspring, the number believed to have been killed in the accident.
"It feels good knowing that we're doing everything we can to ensure the viability of this industry after such a devastating blow," said Angela Caporelli, operations manager for the North Cape Lobster Restoration Project.
The company responsible for the spill, Eklof Marine Corp., will pay for the $8 million project as part of $75 million in settlements with the state, the federal government and affected individuals.
The oil spill, the state's worst ever, happened in 1996. A fire broke out on a tug as it towed a barge in a fierce storm. The barge ran aground, spilling 828,000 gallons of home heating oil off Moonstone Beach.
More than 400 loons, 1,600 other birds, and thousands of crabs, shrimp, fish and other animals were killed. Block Island Sound was shut down to lobster fishing for five months.
Under the federal-state restoration project, workers have been buying lobsters from fisheries in small amounts to avoid competing with restaurants and running up the price. Then the lobsters are sent to sea with workers like Joe Dealteris, who uses a device that works like a paper punch to notch their tails and hands them off to a co-worker to toss into the sound at a rate of about 20 per minute.
"We passed 100,000 lobsters about a week and a half ago," said Dealteris, a University of Rhode Island professor.
With breaks for winter, the dropping of all 1.25 million lobsters could take up to five years.
The lobsters are expected to migrate through Block Island Sound and Rhode Island Sound and eventually produce about 23 billion eggs.
Lobstermen can harvest the restocked lobsters only after their notches grow out, in about two years.