Changes in the ocean: seeing is believing

Island Institute
islandinstitute.org

 

by TOM GROENING
March 8, 2016

 

 

FISHERMEN MAY BE BEST SOURCES TO PERSUADE PUBLIC ON CLIMATE IMPACTS

 

For many seeking elected office—particularly on the Republican side—endorsing the concept of man-induced “climate change” is a vote-killer. But panelists at a Thursday, March 3 session of the Maine Fishermen’s Forum seemed to step right over the politics to address what they are seeing on the water. And what they are seeing is a rapidly changing ocean environment.

 

The “Questioning Our Changing Oceans” discussion, sponsored by the Island Institute (publisher of The Working Waterfront), Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, gathered scientists and fishermen on the panel. About 350 attended the three-hour long session.

 

Gerry Cushman, a lobster fisherman from Port Clyde and president of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, opened the discussion by contrasting catches from 20 years ago.

 

In 1995, some 38 million pounds of sea urchins were landed; in 2015, it was 1.9 million pounds. Scallops went from 1.6 million pounds to less than a half-million. The ground fish catch dropped from 30 million pounds to 1.8 million pounds. Shrimp was a 17 million-pound fishery in 1995, and now, “We’re going on year three without a shrimp season,” he said.

 

On the plus side, the lobster catch was at 38 million pounds in 1995, and last year, topped 121 million pounds.

 

“The numbers don’t lie,” Cushman said.

 

Late in the discussion, John Bullard, northeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, asked the panel what group could most effectively “get through to people” about the impacts a changing climate is having on the marine environment. He then answered that rhetorical query, saying, “I think fishermen are reliable observers of the environment.”

 

Resource harvesters, perhaps more than scientists, can persuade the public that carbon pollution must be curtailed, several others affirmed. Some of panelists from outside Maine—who fish in Alaska, San Francisco and Western Australia—all told dramatic tales of changes in their fisheries.

 

Panelist Keith Colburn, a crab fisherman from Alaska who is seen on the reality TV show “Deadliest Catch,” acknowledged that fishermen have been slow to accept the climate change idea. But Colburn is a believer.

 

“The most dramatic changes have been in the last 15 years,” he said. With the swings in weather in those years, he no longer can predict where to find the Alaskan crabs he chases.

 

“It’s a subject no one wants to admit exists,” Colburn said. “Is it scary? You bet your ass it is.”

 

 

In the question period, panelists and participants expressed the urgency of solving the problem. “We’re really dealing with warming for the foreseeable future,” said GMRI’s Pershing. NOAA’s Hare agreed: “We can’t really change the next 30-50 years.”

Bullard of NOAA Fisheries sounded a call to action as the discussion ended: “We have the technology to solve this problem without breaking a sweat.”

 

 

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