Congress has given final approval to a proposal by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) to provide $3 million to establish a cooperative research program to study the causes of lobster shell disease and the decline in the lobsters in New England waters.Lobsters in New England waters are infected with shell disease that, since its outbreak in the 1990s, has hurt the lobster industry in Rhode Island and contributed to a 77 percent decline in lobstering in waters south of Cape Cod.Reed stated, While not a solution, I hope this funding can provide some answers. Rhode Island state officials, fisheries managers, and lobster fishermen are prepared to work closely with National Marine Fisheries Service to investigate the causes of shell disease and mortality in New England lobsters. This disease goes to the heart of an industry which is important to Rhode Island and New England and is a crucial link to our regional history and culture.The disease isn't dangerous to humans, but afflicted lobsters are so unsightly that they are difficult to sell as live lobsters. Diseased lobsters can still be sold for packaged food, but at lower prices.The lobster fishery supports a $275 million industry in the Northeastern United States from Maine to New York. In 1997, shell disease appeared in the Southern New England lobster population and incidence rates have grown steadily, now affecting more than 30% of harvestable lobsters.Reed secured the funding as part of the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill. A joint House of Representatives-Senate Conference Committee approved the bill today and it is expected to be signed into law by President Bush this week.