The Blog Aquatic » Corey Ridings News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 19 Aug 2014 21:00:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Shifts Happen”: Maine’s Fishing Communities Talk Climate Change Mon, 12 Aug 2013 21:00:14 +0000 Corey Ridings Lobster boats in Maine

Photo: rkleine via Flickr

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.

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Ocean Acidification is About What We Eat Thu, 02 May 2013 21:30:50 +0000 Corey Ridings

A Seattle Chef prepares crisp smelt while learning about the local impacts of ocean acidification – credit Zach Lyons

Earlier this April, Ocean Conservancy and the Seattle Chefs Collaborative co- hosted an event featuring what was probably the most delicious seafood in the world. The Seattle Chef’s Collaborative is a local chapter of a national organization that brings chefs together to meet, learn, and advocate. They are not a traditional conservation organization, but in this case were gathered to talk about little-known local species, a problem called ocean acidification, and to enjoy their colleagues’ creations featuring the very species discussed.

Ocean acidification, caused by rising CO₂ emissions being absorbed by the ocean can be a pretty daunting topic.  We are always asking ourselves, “how do we move this conversation from small groups of scientists and managers to the bus stops and dinner tables where most of us hang out”

Well, everyone has to eat, and for the most part, they enjoy doing so.

Some of our most favorite, most iconic species are oysters and shellfish.  So when you start to think that some of our activities on land might be jeopardizing those things in the ocean that we love, we get worried.   My colleague George Leonard spoke on a panel at the Edible Institute, a yearly gathering of leaders in the local food movement last month in Santa Barbara, and received a warm welcome connecting ocean acidification and the seafood on our plates:

“The audience wanted to know more, and was concerned that ocean acidification is not only affecting shellfish today but poses a serious threat to the broader ocean food web we all depend on.”

Local seafood — geoduck and herring, made for non-traditional but delicious sushi

My experience in Seattle was the same. Beyond getting to talk with interesting chefs and restaurateurs and enjoy amazing seafood and wine, it was most exciting to hear how interested and concerned they are about ocean acidification and its impacts on local food and businesses.  Right now oysters and oyster growers are living with the impacts of acidification – corrosive water nearly brought the Pacific Northwest industry to its knees.  Washington State is now the first state to tackle ocean acidification at a state level – Former governor Chris Gregoire convened an expert panel to address ocean acidification and provided $3.31 million for state efforts.   We recently made a video telling Washington’s story through the people most affected.

A growing body of science is telling a tale of changes in the ocean that could threaten  entire ecosystems from salmon to narwhales, and everyone who depends on them for livelihood, dinner, culture, or recreation. Chefs and other food-industry advocates are well-suited to talk about this subject and connect with others on it.  Not only do they depend on seafood for their art and livelihood, but they are natural story-tellers with an intuitive understanding of the connection between the natural world and our plates.

As we move forward facilitating discussion, educating on the threats, and promoting action to alleviate the ecologic and societal damages of ocean acidification and other ocean issues, it’s important that we remember why groups like chefs are so valuable and necessary to the tell the stories.  It’s the stories, the people, and the experiences that truly motivate and impassions not only the public and the policymakers, but ourselves as well.

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