On a recent day that would otherwise have been perfect for fishing, a group of Maine fishermen and lobstermen opted to remain indoors. They gathered to discuss an issue serious enough to tie up the boats: the future of fishing in the face of climate change.
Increasing carbon pollution and its impacts on the ocean is something that may seem distant and far away for many. But fishermen are seeing changes now and living new realities today. Members of Maine’s fishing communities met recently to discuss these changes during a workshop hosted by the Island Institute, a Maine group dedicated to sustaining local coastal communities.
Shifting fish populations due to warming waters are bringing new species to Maine and pushing others out. Lobsters are more plentiful than ever, a would-be boon except for an excess of “shedders” (also thought to be because of a warming ocean) that sell for a much lower rate than the usual hard-shelled individuals.
Green crabs, an invasive species, have moved north as waters have warmed, and are eating their way through the local shoreline, leading local clammer Walt Coffin to conclude, “We’ll be out of business in two years.”
Ocean acidification is another issue fishermen are contending with today. This process is occurring because of excess carbon pollution being absorbed by the ocean, resulting in an increase in the ocean’s acidity, which spells trouble for shell-building animals. While not as immediate or visible as a swarm of invasive crabs, it also has the potential to seriously damage local industries and cripple economically important fish stocks.
We already know that ocean acidification has caused alarming losses in the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry, and the East Coast is becoming equally concerned about how acidification will impact commercially important fish species.
There is no easy answer, but there is agreement from industry, scientists and conservationists alike—we can and must do something to ensure a future for our iconic fishing and shellfish industries in the face of these threats.
Change can’t come from the waterfront alone though. Local, state and federal leadership is needed to tackle a problem of this proportion. The Maine legislature illustrated this in June, when it passed a resolution recognizing ocean acidification as “a threat to Maine’s coastal economy, communities and way of life.” The resolution cites reasons for action including the high susceptibility of the Gulf of Maine to ocean acidification and the value of fisheries to Maine’s economy (over $600 million in 2012 for those who are counting).
In light of all the challenges the New England fisheries are facing, it’s hard to even think about a future threat so dark and seemingly hard to address as climate change and ocean acidification. But the workshop was inspiring despite the dire predictions. It is clear that solutions are out there, members of the fishing community want to take action and management can respond.
In summing up the meeting that day, speaker Mike Fogarty said, “shifts happen.” The real question is how we respond to them.