[Marxism] Global warming takes toll on marine life
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 15 07:49:36 MST 2014
NY Times, Dec. 15 2014
Waters Warm, and Cod Catch Ebbs in Maine
By MICHAEL WINES and JESS BIDGOOD
PORTLAND, Me. — In the vast gulf that arcs from Massachusetts’s shores
to Canada’s Bay of Fundy, cod was once king. It paid for fishermen’s
boats, fed their families and put their children through college. In one
halcyon year in the mid-1980s, the codfish catch reached 25,000 tons.
Today, the cod population has collapsed. Last month, regulators
effectively banned fishing for six months while they pondered what to
do, and next year, fishermen will be allowed to catch just a quarter of
what they could before the ban.
But a fix may not be easy. The Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming —
faster than almost any ocean waters on earth, scientists say — and fish
are voting with their fins for cooler places to live. That is upending
an ecosystem and the fishing industry that depends on it.
“Stocks are not necessarily showing up in the places that they have in
the past,” said Meredith Mendelson, the deputy commissioner for Maine’s
Department of Marine Resources, which regulates fisheries. “We’re seeing
movement of stocks often north and eastward.”
Regulators this month canceled the Maine shrimp catch for the second
straight year, in no small part because shrimp are fleeing for colder
climes. Maine lobsters are booming, but even so, the most productive
lobster fishery has shifted as much as 50 miles up the coast in the last
40 years. Black sea bass, southerly fish seldom seen here before, have
become so common that this year, Maine officials moved to regulate their
catch. Blue crab, a signature species in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, are
turning up off Portland.
In decades past, the gulf had warmed on average by about one degree
every 21 years. In the last decade, the average has been one degree
every two years. “What we’re experiencing is a warming that very few
ocean ecosystems have ever experienced,” said Andrew J. Pershing, the
chief scientific officer for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute here.
A warmer ocean is not merely a matter of comfort or discomfort for
creatures that dwell there. Scientists suspect that some species
struggle to spawn when the temperature fluctuates. Others may spawn at
the wrong time when food is scarce. Freshwater from melting arctic
glaciers may be altering levels of minerals crucial to plankton, the
base of the gulf’s food chain.
There is a human toll as well. Cod-fishing restrictions have ravaged, at
least temporarily, the community of day boats — the ones owned by
small-business fishermen, with smaller boats and incomes than corporate
trawler fleets — that defined New England for centuries.
“They’ve been tied up at the wharf since Nov. 13,” the day of the
cod-fishing ban, said Angela A. Sanfilippo, the president of the
Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association. The group is handing out $100
food vouchers to newly indigent fishermen. “A good amount of our
industry just became poor people,” she said.
Joe Orlando, 60, who fishes from a Gloucester, Mass., base, said the
effect of the ban was terrifying.“It’s completely, completely over,” he
said. “I got a house, kids, payments.”
But many other fishermen do not blame climate change. They blame the
regulators, calling the moratorium cruel and needless, because they say
their latest cod catches are actually better than in recent years. More
than a few talk of a conspiracy between scientists and environmentalists
to manufacture a fishing crisis that will justify their jobs.
Scientists say the truth is more prosaic: Although the gulf is generally
warming — 2012 was the hottest year on record — the last year was
cooler, and kinder to cod. Moreover, the gulf’s remaining cod have
congregated in deeper, colder waters in southern Maine and
Massachusetts, where their abundance masks their scarcity elsewhere.
“A fisherman’s job isn’t to get an unbiased estimate of abundance. It’s
to catch fish,” said Michael Fogarty, the chief of the ecosystem
assessment program at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that
monitors sea life. “The world they see is a different world than we see
in the surveys.”
That said, much about warming’s effect on the gulf remains unclear.
Years of overfishing have winnowed some fish populations, muddling
efforts to measure climate change’s impact. Fishermen, scientists and
regulators often disagree over whether the current changes are temporary
or the new normal.
And in fact, the latest warming is not unprecedented. Weather records
document a steady, if slow warming of the region’s waters since the
1850s, and a 50- to-70-year climatic cycle set off unusual ocean warming
in the 1950s. A similar cycle is believed to be heating up the northwest
But scientists say those cyclical effects are now being turbocharged by
human-caused climate change. The gulf has been at least two degrees
warmer than its historical 50-degree average in each of the last five
years. In 2012, it measured four degrees higher, according to the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If that is a clear win
for sea bass, and a loss for cod, the consequences for some species are
not so easily tallied.
Take lobster, Maine’s iconic seafood. Thirty years ago, the best
lobstering was in Knox County, the center of Maine’s ragged seacoast.
Today, the lobstering powerhouses are places like Stonington, an island
town two counties closer to the Canadian border. “We did pretty good
lobstering — better than the guys down east,” said Mark Brewer, 43, from
Boothbay, in the southern half of the state, referring to his hauls 20
years ago. “Now they control all the lobsters.”
Not all, actually, for the lobster catch has skyrocketed across the
gulf. Last year, lobstermen hauled in more than 63,000 tons — more than
three times what they caught just 20 years ago.
“We’ve had record years, year after year after year, just growing and
growing,” said Chris Radley, 40, who has lobstered for 18 years on
Vinalhaven, a tiny island in midcoast Maine. “This amount of lobsters
we’re seeing, I don’t think there’s ever been.”
One reason may be that lobsters migrate from deep to shallow waters in
the spring when the temperature rises; because the gulf warms earlier
than in the past, lobsters spend more time close to shore, where they
can be trapped. Scientists also suspect that warming has driven away
predators. But warm water is also conducive to a bacterial infection
that strikes lobsters’ shells. Shell disease is not a problem now in the
gulf, but it lurks. The record warmth in 2012 led to an outbreak off the
Maine coast, and the infection has sped the collapse of lobster
populations farther south.
“It makes lobsters really ugly — like something that crawled out of the
walking dead,” said Dr. Pershing, of the Gulf of Maine Research
Institute. “It doesn’t kill them outright, but it does make them much
less valuable, and it slows reproduction.”
Scientists are not yet predicting that Maine lobsters will go the way of
the cod. But they say the very idea should prompt the fishermen and
regulators alike to plan for change before it arrives.
Susan Beachy contributed research.
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