Ocean acidification bill advances in legislature

A proposal to address how changing ocean chemistry can damage Maine’s coast, shellfish industry and jobs won unanimous support from the Marine Resources Committee on Monday.

LD 1602, a measure sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, would establish a commission to look at the effects of ocean acidification and its potential effects on commercial shellfish harvested along the Maine coast.

“Maine’s history and way of life are tied to our coast,” said Devin, a marine biologist. “If the health of our ocean waters is at risk, so are thousands of jobs, the seafood and tourist industries and the seafood we eat.”

The commission would be tasked with recommending policies and steps to respond to the adverse effects of ocean acidification on commercially important shellfish fisheries and Maine’s shellfish aquaculture industry.

“Ocean acidification is a reality we ignore at our peril,” said Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, the Senate chairman of the committee. “By studying how ocean acidification is impacting and will impact our coastal and marine resources, we will be able to identify strategies to reduce the negative effects of ocean acidification.”

Ocean acidification results from the increased absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. It causes the formation of carbonic acid, which dissolves the shells of shellfish.

“I am happy to see recognition of ocean acidification as an issue that needs further study and potential action,” said Rep. Walter Kumiega, D-Deer Isle, House chairman of the committee. “The committee’s vote today will hopefully start a process that will protect Maine’s valuable coastal resources from ocean acidification.”

Shellfish hatcheries on the West Coast have failed in recent years due to 60 to 80 percent production losses caused by ocean chemistry changes. Major inshore shellfisheries in Maine that provide clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

Larry Mayer, a professor of chemical oceanography at the University of Maine, previously said that the effects of ocean acidification not only hurt shellfish, but is harmful to other marine life.

“This goes all the way to the plankton level,” Mayer said. “Ocean acidification is fiddling with one of the important turning knobs that affect marine ecosystems.”

In January, the Environmental Priorities Coalition named LD 1602 as one of the Legislature’s top environmental bills of the year. According to the coalition, the Gulf of Maine has been identified by researchers as more susceptible to the effects of ocean acidification than other regions on the East Coast.

The issue is so important to stakeholders that they have offered to pick up a significant portion of the costs of the commission.

The bill faces further votes in the full legislature. For more information, please visit: www.mainelegislature.org/LawMakerWeb/summary.asp?ID=280050738.

Ann Kim, Boothbay Register, 4 March 2014. Article.

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