As the Trump Administration pushes to remove references to climate change from an international statement on Arctic policy, and Governor Sununu stands with the Trump decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord, the effects of climate change are already obvious, measurable, and are impacting the current and future livelihood of fisherman and the entire food chain. Scientists warn that warming ocean temperatures “can set off a series of other cascading effects” on marine life that will impact New England economy and culture.
Multiple lines of evidence such as warming sea surface and bottom temperatures to earlier spring warming are measurable and impacting marine life right now. The northeast, the Gulf of Maine in particular, is warming faster than any other body of water on earth. The science clearly shows reductions in copepods and phytoplankton and fish species populations (i.e., lobster, shrimp, herring, right whales), shifts in species distributions, and reduced reproduction while attempts to control harvest have been unsuccessful in thwarting species collapse. According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, factors connected with climate change are changing at a pace faster than they can keep up with.
Here is a summary of some of the available science showing measurable impacts to marine fish and other species taken from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center and other sources from climate change and sea level rise:
Sea Surface Temperatures
· Sea surface temperatures increasing in Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, Mid-Atlantic, and Scotian Shelf with an inflection point around 2010 with record high temperatures in 2012.
· Temperature changes are more pronounced from north to south with more dramatic changes in surface temperatures in the Scotia Shelf followed by the Gulf of Maine.
· Sea surface temperatures have become increasingly more variable since 1985 with the highest variability in the Scotia Shelf, Georges Bank, and Gulf of Maine.
Q: Why do sea surface temperatures matter?
A: Phytoplankton is the base of the marine food chain and is tied to the viability of all the world’s fish, sea birds, marine mammals, and humans. Phytoplankton populations are tied to seasonal (short-term) and long-term changes in sea surface water temperatures.
Sea Bottom Temperatures
· Sea bottom temperatures have been increasing since 1985 in Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, Mid-Atlantic, and Scotia Shelf.
· An inflection point in temperatures is observed in the Scotia Shelf, Georges Bank, and Gulf of Maine around 2010 with record high temperatures in 2012.
· The most significant bottom temperature changes were observed from north to south in the Scotia Shelf followed by Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine.
Q: Why do sea bottom temperatures matter?
A: Increasing sea bottom temperatures have caused many fish species to migrate to environments more hospitable for survival and reproduction. For example, there is evidence that shellfish reproduction is impacted by bottom temperature changes. Lobster and shrimp populations have shifted to the north, likely seeking water temperatures more favorable for spawning and reproduction.
Spring to Summer Transition
· The date of spring to summer warming has advanced approximately two weeks earlier in all regions of the North Atlantic including Scotia Shelf, Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, and Mid-Atlantic.
· The date of spring to summer transition remained constant from 1982 until 2010. Spring to summer transitions began about two weeks earlier in about 2010 — the same inflection time frame observed in sea surface and bottom water temperatures described above.
· Reproduction for many organisms is timed with phytoplankton blooms that are tied to temperature changes and the spring to summer transition. Earlier transition to summer is tied to overall warming ocean temperatures.
Q: Why does the timing of spring to summer temperatures matter?
A: Species like shrimp and lobster rely on cooler ocean temperatures and are moving to the north and into deeper water. Longer warm water seasons also increase susceptibility to disease and threaten reproduction.
Stress on Fish and other Species
· Although regulators have implemented fishing management efforts are ineffective in thwarting collapses of certain populations.
· Fisheries management has been unable to keep up with the pace of actions required to control the effects of warming waters and sea level rise.
· Political forces have made it difficult to protect mammals and other protected species with effective management to respond to changing ocean conditions and environmental factors.
· Chlorophyll, a measure of the viability of phytoplankton populations, has declined overall in Georges Bank, Gulf of Maine, Mid-Atlantic and Scotian shelf since 1999. Chlorophyll inflection points are measured in each area between 2004 and 2012 and have declined since.
· Endangered sea turtles are washing up on Atlantic shores due to warming ocean waters and drastic temperature changes.
· Warming waters have already resulted in the collapse of northern shrimp and the depletion of Atlantic Herring stocks.
Q: Why does this matter?
A: The collapse of the food chain will impact all of us. It is already going to have a significant economic impact on lobster fishermen this season. The depletion of Atlantic Herring in New England waters, the fish which is used for lobster bait, is the most significant current event this season. Lobster fisherman will try to import baitfish from other regions which can endanger our waters with non-native species. New Hampshire Fish and Game is moving to try to establish rules to protect our waters from non-native species draft framework of rules being developed to control the types of lobster bait being imported and used to lower the risk of pathogens and parasites that could impact lobsters and other native marine resources. The economic impact of the collapse of the New England lobster and shrimp populations would be substantial. In 2017, 136.7 million pounds of lobster were landed on the Atlantic coast representing a value of $566.6M.
Science matters. Evidence matters.
We must apply pressure to politicians and elect people who don’t just say they are scientists yet refute science like Governor Sununu. We must use science to direct policy and regulation to address the climate crisis. We must also pressure politicians to sign on to the Paris climate agreement and move to renewable and sustainable energy sources within 12 years as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)warned. Business must innovate, adapt, and react to this crisis and come together to find solutions. In NH, we must elect state representatives, senators, and a Governor that support green policy measures at a speed that heeds the warning of the IPCC. We need federal representatives and a President to do the same. We need all hands on deck and we must all work together to prevent the collapse of more species and our food chain.
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