Richard Nelson is a lobster fisherman from Friendship, Maine who joined with scientists, legislators and others commissioned to study ocean acidification and its effects on commercially harvested and grown species along the coast of Maine. The following are some of the thoughts he used in addressing the press and interested parties during the release of the Ocean Acidification Commission’s report in January of this year.
Author: Richard Nelson
As a fisherman who just shared the responsibility of being a member of Maine’s Ocean Acidification Commission that developed this report, I was certainly grateful that the scientists on the panel readily shouldered most of the workload involved. Even though I might have struggled at times with the various and difficult components of ocean acidification, I did come to a realization that there is a shared quality or skill set required of both scientists and fishermen seeking their objectives.
Both groups must develop and rely on their ability to observe their natural surroundings and to follow and track various elements of nature as they change through time. Both function from foundations of knowledge established over time and checked or proved successful by repetition. That which does not adhere to normal results or follows expected cycles stands out to observers, whether they are fishermen or scientists. This is what has become particularly evident over the last few years in the Gulf of Maine, with multiple scientific reports being released verifying fishermen’s own observations of the rise of water temperatures, problems with invasive species, collapse of cod and shrimp stocks, and the widespread shifting of species from one area to another.
As a lobsterman, I can add to that list of changes in the Gulf of Maine: shell disease, marked changes in molt cycles, eggs on smaller or undersize lobster, and a migration into deeper cooler waters. Although we all are keen observers of these trends, we are now realizing that the health and well being of our fisheries, and that of our ocean, are not just affected by the actions of a few fishermen or the decisions made by our fisheries managers, but by a broad scale of societal choices, from local to global, about energy, runoff, and waste water, as well as maintaining and restoring the natural systems of our coastal and ocean environment. At this point, you may be inclined to ask, which of these changes in say, lobster health or behavior, is directly attributable to ocean acidification? Well, therein lies our problem, besides the realization that they’re reacting to multiple stressors, and that indicators would suggest so, we really don’t know yet.
That’s what this report is about — charting a course that will lead us to that knowledge and understanding, while at the same time recommending more immediate actions based on what we do know at the present time. A course that will help our coastal communities decide whether to gear up for the economic growth of new ocean uses such as renewable energy or aquaculture, expand efforts towards climate mitigation and remediation, or to try to retain the qualities and spatial freedom of our “wild caught” fisheries. A course that will provide information and models that might indicate which fisheries and industries would be sustainable into the future as opposed to carrying high economic risk.
Another lesson learned from the recent changes observed in the Gulf of Maine is that things can happen very quickly. The warm waters experienced during the summer of 2012 not only brought on an early lobster shed but, within two weeks, was accompanied with a collapse in the boat price and subsequently took more than two years for the market to return to normal. We have seen that the adaptability of our local economies, especially those relying on a single fishery or industry, can be severely tested when major change comes rapidly and without preparation. The foresight we need in this case is certainly challenging, but not insurmountable. Ocean acidification is a complex and daunting issue, and along with the ocean environment, it is subject to natural and scientific laws. Those willing to do the work — do the science, and make the changes — will make headway against it.
If you have any follow up questions, feel free to e-mail Richard at fvpescadero [at] yahoo [dot] com.