By Roxanne Palmer
3 July 2013
(Associated Press) – Polar bears aren’t the only animals affected by climate change -- a warmer world could soon be threatening that centerpiece of a New England summer: the Maine lobster.
And what’s bad news for the Maine lobster is likely bad news for Maine. These tasty cockroaches of the sea (they share a phylum, Arthropoda, with insects) generated $338 million in economic activity for the state in 2012. The lobster industry also employs 3,000 full-time and 2,500 part-time harvesters, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
On Tuesday, a coalition of Maine scientists, businesses and environmentalists called on Mainers and state officials to support President Obama’s recently announced carbon emissions reduction plan. One of the key points of that plan involves capping emissions from existing power plants, which account for more than a third of all U.S. carbon emissions.
There is a problem. We are beginning to see the effects of climate change in the Gulf of Maine," Emmie Theberge, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Council of Maine told the Portland Press Herald. "And the oceans are more sensitive to climate change."
Lobsters are cold-blooded, and at the mercy of the temperature of the surrounding ocean. As the waters get warmer, they have to expend more energy to breathe. Breathing less easily places more stress on the lobster, and may make it more susceptible to pathogens. More and more New England lobsters are turning up with shell diseases caused by bacterial infections. The rate of such infections has been strongly associated with spates of days where the ocean temperature exceeds 68 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the New England Aquarium.
Surprisingly, ocean warming has coincided with an increase on lobster numbers in the Gulf of Maine, possibly because the warmer waters allow for lobster larva to hatch earlier and grow more rapidly. Overfishing by humans has also depleted the numbers of the Atlantic cod, which preys on lobsters.
But lobsters may be victims of their own success. Booming numbers – along with a phenomenon where the lobsters shed their shells earlier than usual -- led to a glut of lobsters last spring that drove prices down. Plus, the lobsters in the Gulf of Maine may be doing well, but southern New England fisheries are languishing as the crustaceans move north, seeking out colder waters. If the temperature keeps rising, they may abandon Maine as well.
Another unexpected consequence of the warming waters and the increase in lobster numbers is like a true New England horror story: cannibal lobsters. While it’s long been known that lobsters will attack each other when confined in a small space, this behavior had not been observed in the wild until now. [more]
By North Cairn
2 July 2013
PORTLAND – Drastically reducing carbon emissions would likely slow the negative effects of climate change on the Gulf of Maine lobster industry, leaders of the Maine environmental, scientific and business communities said Tuesday.
Scientists have said climate change is producing rising water temperature and increased acidification in the Gulf of Maine. As those changes play out, disease and life-cycle changes occur in lobsters and other shellfish. This has raised concerns about the state's most lucrative fishery, said environmental advocates from the Natural Resources Council of Maine and marine scientist Rick Wahle, a University of Maine zoologist in the School of Marine Sciences.
They and representatives of the Maine Lobster Council, Ready Seafood Co. and the Maine Restaurant Association launched a campaign Tuesday to raise awareness about the economic value of the state's lobster fishery and the challenges it faces.
"There is a problem. We are beginning to see the effects of climate change in the Gulf of Maine," said Emmie Theberge, clean-energy outreach coordinator for the NRCM. "And the oceans are more sensitive to climate change."
So far, one of the biggest problems for the Maine lobster industry, ironically, has been its own success. Marine biologists have documented the fact that while lobster fisheries in southern New England are languishing, those in the Gulf of Maine are thriving as lobsters abandon warmer waters as far south as Long Island Sound and move north.
The surge in lobster numbers in the Gulf of Maine has led to an oversupply, which last year caused the per-pound price at the pier to dip as low as $2.50 in some areas. Partly in response to that, an aggressive new marketing campaign, funded by $2 million a year in state money, is attempting to open untapped global markets for Maine lobsters. Tuesday's news conference was part of that campaign.
But the lobster glut in the Gulf of Maine is no reason for complacency, marine biologists have warned.
Lobsters here have shown negative reaction to warming water temperatures and ocean acidification, as is evident in their early shedding and migrating north to colder water, said Wahle. Disease and parasites could become a problem if climate change is not slowed by reductions in carbon emissions. In southern waters, lobsters have developed a disease that causes their shells to slowly disintegrate.
"I don't want to paint too rosy a picture," he said.
Because the problems facing the industry appear to be primarily related to climate change stemming from human activity, the group underscored the need for Mainers and legislative leaders to support passage of President Obama's carbon-reduction plan. Released last week, the plan calls for drastic reductions in carbon emissions nationally. According to the NRCM, pollution from burning coal, oil and gas in power plants accounts for roughly 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions.
"Maine can't solve this problem alone," Theberge said. [more]