Ocean acidification bill wins broad public support

Changes in ocean chemistry can threaten coastal environment, jobs
Mon, 01/13/2014 - 4:00pm

    Residents concerned about the effects of changing ocean chemistry testified before the Marine Resource Committee January 13 in favor of an effort to protect Maine’s coastal environment and valuable marine resource-based economy.

    The bill, presented by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, 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.

    “This bill is about protecting Maine’s marine resources,” said Devin, a marine biologist. “Ocean acidification poses a major threat to our commercial shellfish industry and the thousands of jobs it supports.”

    All testimony was in support of 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 already has had devastating effects. 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.

    Richard Nelson, a lobsterman from Friendship, testified that ocean acidification would directly impact his livelihood.

    “Fishermen are the first to be affected by these changes,” Nelson said. “We’re also the first that could potentially be displaced.”

    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,” Mook said. “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.

    “There is clear connection between increased fossil fuel use and acidification of the ocean,” said Salisbury, a South Portland resident. “It is wise to take a proactive stand on ocean acidification.”

    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. For more information, click here.

    Devin is a marine biologist at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center where he works as hatchery manager. Devin now serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.

    Devin is serving his first term in the Maine Legislature and represents Damariscotta, Newcastle, Edgecomb, Bristol, South Bristol and Monhegan Plantation.