With the weather still mild, many lobstermen still have gear in the water and, when it isn’t stormy, they’re pulling up plenty of good-size lobsters. FILE PHOTO

Ocean acidification still an issue in Maine



AUGUSTA — The Marine Resources Committee is scheduled to get the Legislature’s second session off to a busy start on Wednesday (Jan. 13) with a public hearing on proposed legislation affecting the elver fishery. That hearing is scheduled for the morning and is to be followed by work sessions on four bills in the afternoon.

At 10 a.m., the committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a bill sponsored by Rep. Walter A. Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) and Sen. Brian Langley (R-Hancock County), among others. LD 1502 would give the Department of Marine Resources authority to set the weekly, two-day closure of the elver fishery by rule before the season starts. The idea is to allow DMR to take the daily tides and phase of the moon into account when establishing the weekly closures.

Current law requires that the fishery be closed between noon on Friday and noon on Sunday, regardless of whether that would maximize the opportunity for juvenile eels (glass eels or elvers) to reach their spawning grounds in Maine’s streams, lakes and ponds. (See related story)

In the afternoon, the committee scheduled work sessions on three bills in addition to Kumiega’s, including a bill sponsored by Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) calling for a study of the possibilities of expanding the breeding capacity for wild Atlantic salmon in Downeast rivers. When this article was written, the actual language of the proposed statue (LD 405) was unavailable.

Also unavailable was the text of legislation proposed by Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) and Sen. State Gerzofsky (D-Cumberland County) titled “An Act to Address and Mitigate the Effects of Marine Debris.” According to a draft summary on the committee’s website, “the bill would enact measures aimed primarily at micro-debris pollution from particles of plastic approximately 5 to 10 microns in size that may be consumed by filter-feeding organisms, including clams, oysters and mussels, in the marine environment.”

The most fully developed proposal comes in LD 493, sponsored by Rep. Devin and Sen. Langley, among others. The legislation would establish an Ocean Acidification Council to act on the 2014 recommendations of the Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification created by the 126th Legislature in 2013. Devin is the laboratory manager at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center.

Composed of scientists, fishermen, aquaculturists, members of the environmental community and representatives of DMR, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the commission met more than a half-dozen times in the summer and fall of 2014 and filed a 120-plus-page report filled with recommendations about how the state might address the perceived impact of rising levels of acidification in the Gulf of Maine and the state’s nearshore waters.

The commission said that its recommendations, while “not refined or prioritized,” might serve as a “starting point for further conversations” about acidification of Maine’s waters.

Although it is hard to point to specific evidence of growing acidity in the Gulf of Maine, the consensus among most scientists who have studied the questions is that the ocean is growing more acidic everywhere.

As the Earth’s climate warms, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have skyrocketed. Much of that CO2 is absorbed by the ocean. According to some studies, scientists estimate that by 2050 the surface of the oceans will be more acidic than at any time in millions of years. By 2100, these studies say, the oceans will be more acidic than any time in the past 300 million years — two or three times more acidic than now.

Monitoring buoys in the Gulf of Maine have recorded an increase in CO2 levels of about 1.25 parts per million — some 0.3 percent — per year in the gulf since they were installed in 2007.

That’s bad news, or could be, for Maine’s lobster fishermen and shellfish harvesters. Animals that rely on external shells will be particularly susceptible increases in ocean acid levels, should they occur.

Devin’s bill would establish a 16-member council, with membership similar to the commission’s, that would review the data on ocean acidification, indentify and monitor the factors contributing to the problem and “implement the recommendations” of the 2014 report. The council would also serve as an advisory body to the governor and the Legislature on issues relating to ocean acidification.

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