“This bill is about protecting Maine’s marine resources,” said Rep. Mick Devin author of the bill who is also a marine biologist. “Ocean acidification poses a major threat to our commercial shellfish industry and the thousands of jobs it supports.”
Devin’s bill establishes a commission to look at the effects of ocean acidification and its potential effects on commercial shellfish harvested along the Maine coast. The commission will recommend policies and tools to respond to the adverse effects of ocean acidification on commercially important shellfish fisheries and Maine’s shellfish aquaculture industry.
A large number of citizens concerned about the effects of changing ocean chemistry testified before the Marine Resource Committee Monday in favor of an effort to protect Maine’s coastal environment and valuable marine resource-based economy.
No one testified against the measure.
When carbon dioxide levels increase in naturally alkaline ocean waters from fossil fuels use and other sources, carbonic acid formation increases. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish. Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.
Ocean acidification would directly impact the lives and livelihoods of fishermen and their communities. Maine’s coastal economies would be devastated.
“Fishermen are the first to be affected by these changes,” said Richard Nelson, a lobsterman from Friendship. “We’re also the first that could potentially be displaced.”
A study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2007 found that changes in ocean chemistry that were not expected for another 50 to 100 years were already present along the West Coast. These changes led to the failure of shellfish hatcheries in Washington state.
Bill Mook, an oyster farmer, has been owner of Mook Sea Farm in Damariscotta since 1985. His business sells hatchery seed to growers from Maine to Virginia and supports the half shell market. Over the past five years, Mook has come to suspect ocean acidification for causing the hatchery to “sputter.”
“Shellfish hatcheries have been likened to ‘canaries in coal mines,” said Mook. “If ocean acidification is making Mook Sea Farm’s check engine light come on, then we should be very concerned about wild shellfish larvae.”
Mook said that ocean acidification not only affects his business, but causes greater financial harm for the oyster growers who depend on his farm for hatchery seed.
Joseph Salisbury, an oceanography professor at the University of New Hampshire, said that the issue should raise concerns.
Others testifying in support of the bill include representatives from the Island Institute, the Sierra Club, the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the Department of Marine Resources.
The committee will hold a work session on the bill, LD 1602, in coming weeks.
Devin is a marine biologist at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center where he works as hatchery manager. He now serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.