Study Commission Nears Final Recommendations to Counter Ocean Acidification

Dec 11, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson, Lobsterman in Friendship, Maine

The sixteen member commission empowered by the Maine legislature to conduct a brief, six month investigation into the effects of coastal and ocean acidification on fish and shellfish commercially harvested in Maine nears the end of its term and recommends further study and other measures to immediately begin to address the impacts of ocean acidification.

As noted in prior blogs here and here, offshore ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, gets deposited in the ocean, and mixes with water to form carbonic acid. Near shore coastal acidification occurs when runoff from storms carries nitrogen, acidic fresh water, and other pollutants to the ocean. The nitrogen and other nutrient rich pollutants cause algal blooms, which die and release carbon dioxide into the ocean. Both forms of acidification dissolve shells of larval shellfish and possibly stunt growth of lobsters and crabs by causing them to form extra hard outer shells.

The study commission did an impressive job. Its members were appointed by the legislature and by the Commissioner of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources. They worked with a practically non-existent budget and largely volunteered their time away from their jobs as lobstermen, shellfish harvesters, shellfish farmers, marine researchers, scientists and more. During meetings and on various subcommittees, the members generously shared their expertise and commitment to working together.

The result of their efforts will be seen soon, when the Commission releases its final report. The near final draft contains a complete listing of all research regarding the effects of ocean acidification on Maine marine life and recommends actions we can take to prevent ocean acidification from destroying our commercial shellfisheries, including lobsters which account for 80% of commercial landings in Maine. The report also appends proposed new legislation that would establish a long term study commission to coordinate further research into the many areas where we lack data and further measures to combat ocean acidification.

Here are some things that we all can do to protect our shellfish from ocean acidification:

  • Reduce carbon emissions- drive less, switch from oil to cleaner heat sources, explore ways to be more energy efficient
  • Reduce or eliminate use of lawn fertilizers or time their spread to eliminate runoff of fertilizers into coastal marine waters
  • Do not dump pet waste or other waste down sewers
  • Support legislation that reduces carbon emissions on a national and local level
  • Support the proposed law to establish a more permanent ocean acidification study commission

For more information about the study, read these stories from Portland Press Herold and MPBN.

Take Action to Protect Ocean Habitat

Dec 5, 2014 by  | Bio |  5 Comment »

New England’s ocean is a unique and breathtakingly beautiful marine environment. One of the extraordinary places that CLF has featured as part of its ocean conservation efforts is the highly productive, diverse, and dramatically beautiful Cashes Ledge. Tragically, despite these valuable and irreplaceable characteristics, Cashes Ledge is in danger of being opened to trawls, dredges, and other destructive fishing practices pursuant to a fisheries management proposal that would eliminate its currents protections—and ultimately do more harm than good to Cashes and numerous other fragile ocean habitat in our region.

Kelp Forest at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine

For more than ten years Cashes Ledge has been protected against the most damaging forms of fishing, such as bottom trawling and dredging. But the New England Fishery Management Council is now considering a proposal that would remove these protections. The proposal, known as the Omnibus Habitat Amendment (OHA), includes a range of alternatives for managing ocean habitat. One alternative would eliminate all the current protected areas that now provide fish a safe haven from damaging fish trawls and other harmful gear. Another alternative would reduce the amount of protected ocean in New England by as much as 70%. Among the many harmful alternatives being considered is one, preferred by the Council, that would expose more than 70% of the currently protected Cashes Ledge area to damaging bottom fishing. The Council has made a preliminary decision to move forward with this alternative that would eliminate protection for areas where the imperiled Atlantic cod obtains refuge to feed, spawn, and avoid predators–in spite of recommendations from its own technical staff and scientists to leave Cashes fully intact!

This is not only contrary to the OHA’s habitat protection objective, but an overall bad sign for an ocean ecosystem already unable to sustain healthy populations of important species like Atlantic cod and flounder.

Now is your chance to tell the Council and NOAA that you won’t stand for this kind of mismanagement. You can submit written comments to these agencies here, as well as make a statement in person at public hearings that are currently taking place all over New England and in a few of the mid-Atlantic states. Your simple presence at these meetings would demonstrate to the Council the widespread support for keeping Cashes Ledge permanently closed to harmful fishing practices. As New England ocean-lovers, it is our responsibility to reveal to others the true beauty of our home waters, and show that New England’s ocean is a spectacular ecosystem that deserves to be protected.

Thank you for your continued support, and we hope to see you out there!

This Week on TalkingFish.org – November 24-28

Nov 28, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

November 25 – Giving Thanks for a Life-Changing Adventure–and More – In this Thanksgiving season, I’m giving a public thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard for the adventure that began my journey as an ocean steward…I’m also grateful for the good things that have happened in U.S. ocean conservation in 2014.

November 28 - Fish Talk in the News – Friday, November 28 – In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, the Boston Globe answered how the federal government conducts stock assessments; NEFMC issued a reminder of the Omnibus Habitat Amendment public hearings going on now; federally licensed Maine scallop fishermen are now allowed in state waters; shellfish aquaculture is expected to be a growing industry in New England; companies will begin bidding for Martha’s Vineyard wind power leases at the end of January; an above average number of sea turtle have been stranded on Cape Cod beaches; ASMFC is beginning preparation for the 2015 bluefish stock assessment; ASMFC’s October/November issue of Fisheries Focus is now available; ASF completed two fish passage projects in Maine; MSC and NEAQ are developing a bycatch mitigation tool; the Blue Ocean Society received two new rare marine creatures; and the courts rule that Boston Fish Pier companies must pay taxes for overstaying their leases.

Exploring a Unique Biodiversity Hotspot In the Gulf of Maine (by Jon Witman)

Nov 7, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Marine Ecologist and Professor of Biology at Brown University, Dr. Jon Witman, recently authored a blog about Cashes Ledge for the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Witman has been studying Cashes Ledge for over thirty years and personally speaks to the true value that this unique habitat holds. You can read the full blog here, which also features beautiful photography by Brian Skerry.

This Week on TalkingFish.org – October 20-24

Oct 24, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

October 22 – Exploring America’s Ocean Canyons – Officials in the mid-Atlantic region are considering important and much-needed protection for some 39,000 square miles of U.S. territory, an area larger than Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey combined. But it’s not a place that you or I have ever visited. It’s part of the country’s ocean realm stretching 200 miles from shore, beyond our shallow coastal waters. Fortunately, the deep-sea explorations of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel Okeanos Explorer and its unmanned submersible are bringing parts of that vast, largely unknown area into spectacular, close-up view.

October 24 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, October 24 -In this week’s Fish Talk in the News, New England herring and bluefin tuna fishing worlds collide; Maine’s New England Cluster aims to boost its maritime economy; NRDC intends to sue NMFS and NOAA; the Maine Lobstering Union also intends to sue NMFS; an opinion piece calls for better monitoring of Gulf of Maine cod; Maine researchers are trying to better understand microplastics in the Gulf of Maine; ASMFC recommends cuts in Maine’s elver quota; NMFS proposed a new sea turtle protection rule; ASMFC release supplemental materials for its annual meeting; Cuban fisheries managers learn from the New England fishing industry’s successes and failures; the Army Corps approved the first east coast offshore shellfish aquaculture permit; seafood lovers celebrated at the Wellfleet OysterFest last weekend; North Shore high school students will be served locally caught fish on Fridays; $18 million in federal funds will be available for Saltonstall-Kennedy grants; the Coast Guard is offering free safety courses to commercial fishermen; and a Maine lobstermen faces a $50,000 fine and jail time.

Redefining Open Space: The Case for Protecting Open Space in the Sea

Oct 24, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

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Photo credit: Brian Skerry

Nestled on Massachusetts’ North Shore, Ipswich is an historic New England community with a vibrant town center, friendly people, and working farms.

What really strikes visitors to this small town, however, is its open space. A remarkable 47 percent of the town is protected. People here seem to share a common, almost innate understanding that their quality of life is intimately tied to their open space – and that they need green spaces to balance a landscape increasingly developed for housing and commerce.

The people of Ipswich are not alone – New England boasts 500 land trusts working to protect the places that make living in this corner of the country so special. Across the country, the number of active land trusts tops out at more than 1,700, which, together, have conserved 47 million acres of land. That number of protected acres only gets bigger when you add in state and national park systems and wildlife refuges.

So, when I think about the concept of open space in the ocean, I am confounded by how differently we treat our saltwater resources. There’s not even a term for open space at sea. I know, for many of us, the vast blue expanse of the ocean looks like nothing but “open space.” But beneath the waves is a landscape as diverse, breathtaking, and dramatic as any on land – a dynamic seascape of boulder reefs, hard and soft corals, luxuriant kelp forests, muddy basins, ever-changing sand plains, and beautiful canyons full of exotic marine life.

Yet only a fraction of our oceans – barely two percent – is permanently protected worldwide.

Surely in the same way that we bank away critical portions of our terrestrial landscape for its inherent value, we can protect equally vital seascapes so that our ocean can survive and thrive for generations to come. That protection should follow the same principles as on land, which we manage for multiple uses. We need appropriate places to develop and site clean renewable offshore wind energy, for example. And, we need fishing grounds to support our venerable fishing industry and the production of the delicious seafood for which our coastal regions are renowned.

But we also have to acknowledge that fishing, while important, is not a benign activity; few exploitative industries are. And some fishing gear – trawls and dredges, in particular – are more destructive than others. Our decisions about how to manage the ocean, then, must balance both realities. That’s why Conservation Law Foundation is pushing to protect some of New England’s most remarkable – and vulnerable – ocean open spaces before they are damaged beyond repair.

Cashes Ledge is one of those vulnerable places. Located in the Gulf of Maine about 80 miles from Portland, Maine, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, Cashes Ledge rivals any earthbound landscape in beauty, biodiversity, and grandeur. The steep ridges and deep basins along this 25-mile-long mountain range create ideal conditions for marine life as currents mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water from the top of the water column to the seafloor far below. Home to the deepest and largest cold-water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard, Cashes Ledge provides an important source of food and a diverse habitat for fish, sharks, marine mammals, and an astounding array of invertebrates. This diversity also makes it a valuable open-sea laboratory for scientists studying ocean ecosystems and the impacts of climate change.

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Marine life on Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry.

For the past 12 years Cashes Ledge and the area surrounding it have been closed to most commercial fishing – and it shows. The area is lush and productive, a refuge not only for threatened groundfish like Atlantic cod, but also for rare species such as Atlantic wolffish and North Atlantic right whales. As I write, however, federal fisheries managers are considering a proposal to re-open the whole area to the most harmful kinds of commercial fishing, which could devastate this prized seascape.

Cashes Ledge is one of those remarkable places that few people will ever get to experience for themselves – only the most skilled divers attempt to explore its depths. To help expose the underwater beauty and diversity of Cashes Ledge, Conservation Law Foundation has partnered with noted marine photojournalist Brian Skerry, a contributing photographer to National Geographic Magazine and a National Geographic Photography Fellow. During his long career, Brian has photographed oceanscapes around the world, documenting their beauty and their fragility for all of us to see. Now he’s come back home to his native New England waters, capturing through his expert lens Cashes Ledge’s rainforest-like kelp forest, expansive mussel beds, sea stars and sea anemones, red Atlantic cod and cunner, and so much more.

Brian knows that seeing is believing – and he shares with us a conviction that, by revealing the wonder of Cashes Ledge through his dramatic and mesmerizing photography, we can inspire people’s passion for its protection, a passion as strong as any stirred by our most beloved landscapes.

We can – we must – change the way we think about ocean open spaces, and move forward meaningful protection for our most vital seascapes, places like Cashes Ledge.

Priscilla Brooks is the Director of Ocean Conservation at Conservation Law Foundation where she works to restore and protect New England’s ocean wildlife and habitats.

Video: Take a 90-Second Dive on Cashes Ledge

Aug 27, 2014 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

Cashes Ledge is a spectacular underwater mountain range unlike anyplace you’ll find on land or sea – it’s one of the most dynamic hotspots of biodiversity in New England and the entire North Atlantic. Now it’s in danger. Cashes Ledge has been protected from the most harmful fishing practices for more than 10 years. But this amazing preserve for fish and ocean wildlife may be just a few months away from having its protected status revoked.

We’re not going to let that happen – and you can help by doing just three things:

1. Watch our video. Since we can’t take you to Cashes Ledge, we enlisted National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, Brown University Biologist Jon Witman, and local fishermen to help bring Cashes to you.

2. If you haven’t already, please sign our petition to NOAA today, asking them to protect Cashes Ledge.

3. Share this video far and wide with your friends, colleagues, and networks. – and ask them to sign our petition and support our work. Because we need many more passionate people like you to take action, today, to protect this remarkable marine refuge.

It’s going to take all of us raising our voices loudly and clearly to protect Cashes Ledge. Thank you for your commitment and for being part of the CLF community.

 

Dedication and Talent Obvious Among Commission Members Studying Ocean Acidification

Aug 7, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Did you know that climate change has made the Gulf of Maine 500% less productive at producing marine life? How much of that reduced productivity is a result of ocean acidification is a question that might be answered by Maine’s Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which met for the first time on August 1. The Commission, the second in the nation of its kind, is tasked with understanding the science behind ocean acidification, determining what we still need to learn to fully understand the problem, and recommending potential solutions.

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Rep. Mick Devin shucks oysters during the first Maine Study Commission meeting, highlighting research done on ocean acidification at the University of Maine’s Darling Center.

The Commission is composed of an impressive array of legislators, fishermen and scientists, most of whom are volunteering their time. At the August 1 meeting, which was open to the public, Commission members asked tough and detailed questions to a team of scientists who shared their knowledge about this problem. Here are some of the facts that I learned at the meeting:

  • Ocean acidification is like acid rain, in that carbon dioxide combines with water to form carbonic acid. Its impacts differ, however, because the ocean can absorb more carbonic acid than freshwater lakes (which were most affected by acid rain). The acid nonetheless eats away at the shells of mollusks like clams and oysters and affects crustaceans like lobsters by impacting the calcium carbonate that they use to make shells. Scientists are still studying and discovering exactly how harmful ocean acidification is to shellfish.
  • The major cause of ocean acidification is carbon from fossil fuel emissions. We must find local, regional, and national ways to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from sources like power plants and cars.
  • We must also reduce coastal sources of acidification, such as stormwater runoff and insufficient sewage treatment. This can be done mostly by passing laws and taking actions that drastically reduce the amount of nutrients that flow into the ocean from these controllable sources.
  • We have to find ways to help marine life adapt to the changes already caused by ocean acidification and those further changes that we cannot stop. Scientists are looking at whether we can recycle mollusk shells and add them to bays to act like an antacid, the ability of plants like seaweed and sea grass to absorb carbon, and ocean planning to perhaps start seaweed farms (which could reduce carbon) near shellfish farms (which are harmed by carbon).
  • Some shellfish farmers in Maine have already begun storing sea water to use during times when stormwater runoff makes the water unsafe for developing oysters.

In a state where 75% of our fisheries income is derived from shellfish, the Commission has a large task in front of it. The sincerity, expertise and dedication of the Commission members inspired confidence that they will find ways to help reduce the causes of acidification and lessen its impacts on our fisheries. CLF is especially grateful to Representative Mick Devin for introducing the legislation and working so hard to bring scientists and others to the first meeting. Senator Chris Johnson and Representative Wayne Perry also played active roles at the meeting, asking thoughtful questions and helping to shape the work ahead.

The Commission has set up working committees and will meet three more times as a whole. After that, they will write a report to be presented to the state legislature by December 5. If you want to learn more about the Commission, or attend any of their meetings, check out their website.

CLF will assist the Commission using our legal and policy expertise. On a state and regional level, we will continue to work for clean energy sources to replace fossil fuels, and for laws and permits that reduce or eliminate sources of nutrient pollution to our ocean.

Meet the CLF Dive Team

Jun 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

CLF-Dive-Team-1

The team getting ready for action.

With the CLF dive team busy exploring Cashes Ledge and other sites in the Gulf of Maine, we thought we’d introduce you to our star-studded team of ocean adventurers!

 

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Brian Skerry is a renowned underwater photographer praised around the world for his aesthetic sense and evocative scenes. His images tell stories that not only celebrate the mystery and beauty of the sea, but also help bring attention to the threats that endanger our oceans and their inhabitants.

A contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 1998, Brian has covered a wide range of stories, from the harp seal’s struggle to survive in frozen waters to the alarming decrease in the world’s fisheries. His latest book, a 160-photo monograph entitled Ocean Soul, was published in 2011.

Skerry is also a passionate ocean advocate. After three decades of exploring the world’s oceans, the Massachusetts native has returned to the Gulf of Maine to document and protect its exceptional diversity of marine wildlife and habitat.

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Jon Witman is a professor of biology at Brown University. He has studied the ecology of subtidal marine communities for over 30 years, and has conducted research in six of the world’s seven oceans.

Jon led the first ecological study of overfishing in the Gulf of Maine. He has published numerous peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on the invertebrate and fish communities that thrive on the rocky seafloor at Cashes Ledge, and he has also studied the internal waves that support primary productivity in the area. He is committed to protecting the ecological and scientific value of this unique marine habitat.

Jon will also be joined on the expedition by his Ph.D. student Robby Lamb.

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Evan Kovacs started his filming career in 2003 on the History Channel’s underwater adventure series Deep Sea Detectives.  He has also had an ongoing filming relationship with the Emmy award winning Lonewolf Documentary Group, and recently the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

With WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, Evan has filmed on the deep submersible ALVIN and the ROV Jason. Currently he is working with the lab to develop the next generation of 3D and 2D cameras and shooting techniques for topside and underwater imaging. Evan has been diving for over 18 years and has dived on shipwrecks, caves and reefs across the world.

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Luis Lamar is a scientific technician with WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab. He has filmed and photographed marine life around the world, from New Zealand to Micronesia. Lu has assisted Brian Skerry on numerous dive expeditions and has captured video of the kelp forests on Cashes Ledge for Conservation Law Foundation.

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Ken Houtler is the captain of WHOI’s R/V Tioga, a research boat launched in 2004 and designed for day and overnight trips in coastal waters. Ken has led the vessel on countless research expeditions in New England waters, including trips to deploy and recover autonomous oceanographic instruments, to collect data on harmful algal blooms, and to tag endangered North Atlantic right whales.

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Liz Kintzing is the expedition’s dive captain. Liz supervises the academic diving program at the University of New Hampshire’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, and she also sits on the board of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. She has been diving with Jon Witman on Cashes Ledge for over 20 years.

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