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  • Maine must address acidification to save our fisheries, our way of life

    Portland, Maine docks, photo by Ramona du Houx

     Editorial by Maine State Senator Chris Johnson, from Somerville.

    Last year, Maine became the first state on the East Coast to tackle the growing threat to our way of life posed by an increasingly acidic ocean. Today, we stand at a crossroads.

    Ocean acidification is a very real and serious threat to the Gulf of Maine. The ocean today is more than 30 percent more acidic than it was at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. The causes of this increasing acidity are myriad, but most of them are linked in one way or another to global climate change.

    Lobster fishing is at risk with ocean temperatures on the rise and acidification. Photo of Belfast lobster fisherman by Ramona du Houx

    According to a story in this week’s Portland Press Herald, scientists estimate that by 2100, the oceans will be more acidic than they’ve been in the past 300 million years. The Gulf of Maine is particularly vulnerable to acidification, which threatens many of our important fisheries. Acidity harms shellfishes ability to grow shell during their juvenile stage, drastically decreasing their likelihood of survival.

    Several communities in my district rely in part on these fisheries. Seafood eaters in our state will likely have ordered  “Pemaquid Oysters” or clams or other shellfish from our region at restaurants. These marine creatures provide jobs and spur economic activity in our region.

    But this isn’t just a local concern. Maine’s fisheries in 2014 had a value of more than $585 million, nearly all of which came from shellfish such as lobster, clams, scallops and oysters. Simply put, threats to these sea creatures are threats to our state’s economy.

    Last year, I co-chaired a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on Maine’s coast and fisheries. The group included policymakers, fishermen, aquaculturists and scientists.

    The commission’s work culminated last December in a report recommending several steps Maine could take to address the threat of acidification in our state. Perhaps the most important of these steps was also the simplest: The state must take acidification seriously and embark on a sustained, coordinated effort to mitigate its effects on the Gulf of Maine.

    A bill by Rep. Mick Devin currently awaits the Legislature when it returns in January. That bill would establish a long-term Ocean Acidification Council to address this growing threat.

    The coming session is reserved for emergency legislation. There can be no question that the threat posed by acidification to our fisheries, our economy and our way of life is an emergency the state must address.

    Some may raise concerns about the minimal costs associated with an ongoing effort to protect our fisheries. But the cost of doing nothing is far greater to our friends and neighbors who turn to the ocean to earn a living and support their families.

    We simply cannot wait for an ecological collapse of one of our important fisheries before we act.

    Climate change is real. Ocean acidification is real. They threaten to devastate our marine resource economy — and many coastal communities’ way of life. I urge you to contact your lawmakers, and ask them to support the critical work ahead. There’s too much at stake to stop working now.