Ocean acidification bill supporters make case to Maine Legislature.

By Ronald Huber | Jan 13, 2014
Photo by: Ron Huber Representative Mick Devin and Sierra Club's Becky Bartovics at Belfast meeting. File photo November 2013.

It was standing room only at the Maine Legislature's Marine Resources Committee as supporters of  LD 1602  the "Save Our Shellfish" bill, made their case for appointing of a coastwide multisector  committee to study how to reduce the impact of oceanic acidification on Maine species and what proactively to do, fishery by fishery.

Not only were clammers, shellfish farmers and the scientific community evident, The groundfish industry called for the scope to be broadened to consider all Maine marine species from plankton up. A wastewater management too was represented, and a wide spectrum of Maine ENGOs weighed in as well.

The bill's full title is Resolve, Establishing the Commission To Study the Effects of Ocean Acidification and Its Potential Effects on Commercial Shellfish Harvested and Grown along the Maine Coast"

In addition to  bill sponsor Mick Devin, and DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher,  fifteen members of the public and interest groups testified.

Senator Chris Johnson, committee co-chair, gave the introduction to the public hearing (mp3)

Representative Mick Devin Sponsor laid out the case for LD 1602 spending time money and energy getting up to speed on the impact acidification is having on maine marine and estuarine species.

DMR Commissioner Pat Keliher followed, calling for achievable outcomes, not only another report - bottom line is produce something that will help Maine. (3minutes)

Suzy Arnold of Island Institute spoke next. She noted that the pH of some  Gulf of Maine waters is 30% lower than it was (4min 9sec). If our blood went that that much lower we'd be in a coma, Arnold said. The increased acidity is dissolving shells of baby shellfish. Critical prey like zooplankton are affected too. Crabs seem  okay but have thicker shells and slower growth.  The California rockfish and other fish  exhibit confusion & anxiety when acidified on the west coast.

Arnold said that compared to bivalves, nothing known about lobster acidification. This must be a priority. She said Seagrant & Cooperative extension agreed. She noted that there will be a daylong meeting Thursday in Augusta to ID priorities, and that all are welcome.

Nick Battista of Island Institute recommended changes to the composition of the acidification study commission.(6minutes) Follow the Washington state process: Get more money. Washington state  convened a panel of  24 members. Met 12 days. Selected strong co-chairs who are not politicians. This study, he said, should be joined with existing programs. Let all stakeholders get informed and involved. Nick suggested the legislature consider an authorizing account where this study can accept outside funding.

Dave Cousens spoke on the bill as did Patrice McCarron of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. They told the legislature that the effect on lobsters continues to be unknown.  We aren't going to stop OA in our lifetime. But we need answers on how to live with it. Maine lobster is a huge part of our economy, McCarron stressed. This is very very important to look into.

Becky Bartovics of North Haven spoke on behalf of the  Maine Sierra Club (3min 18sec). There's an oysterfarm on North Haven at risk, she said.  Maine needs to do  something. All Maine's shellfish are at risk, even from small changes in acidification. There must be ways for communities to do something. Maine should act quickly.

Maine Coast Fishermen's Association representative Lucy Van Hook called for the study to be expanded to include at least two fishing representatives (4 min), with one to examine effects to groundfish and forage species. MCFA has 35 groundfish permit holders among its members.

Van Hook  described a Gulf of Maine groundfishery in trouble: a federal disaster declaration is in effect and the Maine shrimp industry has been shut down. More and more fishermen are dependent just on lobstering: a very unstable situation. This makes it more difficult to set management plans, she said.

The rapid increase in acidity is pervasive through the Maine ecosystem.  Especially of concern are species at the base of the food web. How will they be effected? What to do ? So expand the scope. An outreach plan must use existing outreach channels,

Given the diversity of fisheries affected, it is important that at least  two different commercial fisheries  be represented on the committee.

Richard Nelson, Friendship lobsterman said that his area's fishermen are in trouble (4min 10sec) by a combination of rising acidity  and loss of fishing grounds  displacement by ocean windfarming   Maine should be like Rhode Island and Mass and have actual ocean management.

Damariscotta Shellfish farmer Bill Mook called his business the canary in the mine shaft (6min 42sec). He's been farming shellfish there since 1985 and supplies shellfish seed from Maine all the way south to Virginia. He also raises oysters for market in Maine restaurants.

Mook said businesses are doing well, but "the check-engine light is on". Oysters spend 14 days swimming, creating tiny shells of simple calcium carbonate. Over the past 5-6  years,he's  found serious mortality of nursery stock  after storm events with lots of runoff,  "Our crude pH studies" he said, show acidification. Mook lost $100,000 worth of hatchery spawn from a single freshwater storm.

Other speakers at the event included Joe Salisbury, South Portland,  Bigelow Lab scientist Meredith White, Joe Payne, Casco Baykeeper, John Melrose Maine Wastewater Control Association, Lisa Pullman of NRCM, Tom Abuello of the Nature Conservancy, Ivy Fernuka of CLF and Taryn Hallweaver of Environment Maine, and Beth Ahearn, Environmental Priorities Project

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