[Marxism] Global warming takes toll on marine life

Louis Proyect 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 
Atlantic today.

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.




More information about the Marxism mailing list