Fight ocean acidification, save the lobster roll

Photo credit: G. Danby

Photo credit: G. Danby

No one comes to the Maine coast to eat a chicken sandwich.

When tourists visit, they want to bite into a lobster roll. Or maybe dig into a bucket of steamers, a fisherman’s platter with golden shrimp and scallops or a platter of oysters on the half shell.

The two of us have our differences about which is the best — after all, one of us is a lobsterman and the other is a marine scientist who specializes in oyster aquaculture. But we’re united in understanding that ocean acidification is a real threat to commercially important marine species and our coastal economy.

When we’re not busy with our day jobs, we’re legislators from different sides of the aisle who work together on marine issues, including on a special ocean acidification commission that brought together fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists and policymakers to address this threat.

The work of the commission led us to work together on a $3 million bond proposal, one of a number of recommendations made by the panel. It would help Maine better identify the spots along our coast where ocean acidification poses the largest risk. We cannot address these trouble spots if we do not know where they are.

Oceans around the world are growing more acidic. In fact, the acidity level is 30 percent higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution.

There are two reasons for the changes. The biggest is increased carbon dioxide in the air reacting with the water, turning it more acidic. The other is nutrients and carbon dioxide from land-based sources, such as municipal wastewater treatment facilities, septic failures and runoff, increasingly making it to the coast.

When carbon dioxide and seawater mix, they form carbonic acid. It can damage the shells of marine life like lobsters, clams and oysters. It can also hinder the ability of these species to reproduce, which is very bad news for Mainers who make their living harvesting these creatures. Ocean acidification is already taking its toll on commercially valuable marine species. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, changing ocean chemistry has already killed billions of oysters.

Maine’s shellfish fisheries and aquaculture are valued in excess of $1 billion annually, when considering landings, processing, retail sales as well as tourism. Maine’s coastal economy supports more than 10,000 fishermen and thousands more jobs in related fields.

As soon as possible, we need to find out which parts of the Maine coast are the most vulnerable. It’s a difficult job, because when you stretch out Maine’s jagged coastline, it could run all the way down the Eastern Seaboard, around Florida and along the entire Gulf Coast. We need to learn where our problem spots are so we can come up with the smartest possible plan to mitigate them.

Our bond proposal would help set up monitoring buoys and related equipment to read and analyze the data on ocean chemistry, whether the higher acidity is caused by atmospheric carbon dioxide, river discharges, point sources and chemical reactions affecting clam flats.

Ocean acidification is taking place at a rate at least 100 times faster than at any other time in the past 200,000 years, and it’s hitting the Gulf of Maine harder than other regions. We can’t afford to sit on our hands.

Both of us have decades of experience working with the ocean, and we recognize how important it is to understand and address this threat. If the health of Maine’s coastline begins to fail and we are caught unprepared, the consequences for Maine’s biggest economic engine could be devastating.

We understand just how dangerous ocean acidification is to our marine environment, our jobs and our way of life. It isn’t just valuable shellfisheries that are at risk, but other related parts of our economy like tourism.

For the sake of our fisherman and all the people who make their living from Maine’s coast, let’s pass this bond and protect our future.

Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, is a lobsterman who serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, is a marine scientist and a member of the Marine Resources Committee.

Wayne Parry & Mick Devin, Bangor Daily News, 19 June 2015. Article.

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