Lawmakers pass East Coast’s first ocean acidification bill

April 18th, 2014 

The Legislature on Thursday passed the East Coast’s first bill to address the threat of ocean acidification as the Senate gave the measure its final approval with a vote of 33-0. The bill, LD 1602, now goes to Gov. Paul LePage.

“Maine has the opportunity to lead on this issue,” said Rep. Mick Devin, the bill’s sponsor and a marine biologist. “The overwhelming support for my bill shows that Maine understands that ocean acidification is a real problem. It poses a threat to our coastal environment and the jobs that depend on it. We must address this threat head-on.”

The measure would establish a commission to study and address the negative effects of ocean acidification on the ecosystem and major inshore shellfisheries. The committee membership would be made up of stakeholders including fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists and legislators.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use are causing changes in ocean chemistry. As carbon dioxide and seawater combine, carbonic acid forms. Carbonic acid can dissolve the shells of shellfish, an important commercial marine resource. Over the past two centuries, ocean acidity levels have increased 30 percent.

If left unchecked, ocean acidification could cause major losses to shellfisheries like clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins and put at risk thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

Shellfish hatcheries on the West Coast have failed in recent years due to 60 to 80 percent production losses caused by ocean chemistry changes, which can take place quickly. A 2007 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered changes in ocean chemistry not expected for another 50 to 100 years on the West Coast.

Devin’s bill is one of the key legislative issues of the Environmental Priorities Coalition this year. The coalition cited research that found the Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to the effects of ocean acidification than other parts of the East Coast.