New England Takes on Ocean Pollution State By State

By Patrick Whittle, Associated Press, March 30, 2015

Portland, Maine — A group of state legislators in New England want to form a multi-state pact to counter increasing ocean acidity along the East Coast, a problem they believe will endanger multi-million dollar fishing industries if left unchecked.

The legislators’ effort faces numerous hurdles: They are in the early stages of fostering cooperation between many layers of government, hope to push for potentially expensive research and mitigation projects, and want to use state laws to tackle a problem scientists say is the product of global environmental trends.

But the legislators believe they can gain a bigger voice at the federal and international levels by banding together, said Mick Devin, a Maine representative who has advocated for ocean research in his home state. The states can also push for research to determine the impact that local factors such as nutrient loading and fertilizer runoff have on ocean acidification and advocate for new controls, he said.

“We don’t have a magic bullet to reverse the effects of ocean acidification and stop the world from pumping out so much carbon dioxide,” Devin said. “But there are things we can do locally.”

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration says the growing acidity of worldwide oceans is tied to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, and they attribute the growth to fossil fuel burning and land use changes. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased from 280 parts per million to over 394 parts per million over the past 250 years, according to NOAA.

Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, and when it mixes with seawater it reduces the availability of carbonate ions, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said. Those ions are critical for marine life such as shellfish, coral and plankton to grow their shells.

The changing ocean chemistry can have “potentially devastating ramifications for all ocean life,” including key commercial species, according to NOAA.

The New England states are following a model set by Maine, which commissioned a panel to spend months studying scientific research about ocean acidification and its potential impacts on coastal industries. Legislators in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are working on bills to create similar panels. A similar bill was shot down in committee in the New Hampshire legislature but will likely be back in 2016, said Rep. David Borden, who sponsored the bill.

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Study Committee Calls for Maine to Act on Ocean Acidification

Portland Press Herald, Dec 2nd, 2014 By Kevin Miller

A report to legislators says more research and local efforts are needed to deal with the threat to shellfish, including lobsters and clams.

AUGUSTA — Maine should increase research and monitoring into how rising acidity levels in oceans could harm the state’s valuable commercial fisheries while taking additional steps to reduce local pollution that can affect water chemistry.

Those are two major recommendations of a state commission charged with assessing the potential effects of ocean acidification on lobster, clams and other shellfish. The Legislature created the commission this year in response to concerns that, as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen, the oceans have become 30 percent more acidic because oceans absorb the gas.

Researchers are concerned that organisms that form shells – everything from Maine’s iconic lobster to shrimp and the tiny plankton that are key links in the food chain – could find it more difficult to produce calcium carbonate for shells in more acidic seawater. They worry that the acidification could intensify as carbon levels rise and the climate warms.

Although research on Maine-specific species is limited, the commission of scientists, fishermen, lawmakers and LePage administration officials said the findings are “already compelling” enough to warrant action at the state and local level.

“While scientific research on the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and individual organisms is still in its infancy, Maine’s coastal communities need not wait for a global solution to address a locally exacerbated problem that is compromising their marine environment,” according to an unofficial version of the report unanimously endorsed by commission members Monday.

The panel’s report will be presented to the Legislature after Monday’s final edits are incorporated. Those recommendations include:

Work with the federal government, fishermen, environmental groups and trained citizens to actively monitor acidity changes in the water or sediments, and organisms’ response to those changes.

 Conduct more research across various species and age groups to get a better sense of how acidification is affecting the ecosystem.

 Identify ways to further reduce local and regional emissions of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas produced by the combustion of fossil fuels – and to reduce runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients that can contribute to acidification.

 Reduce the impact of acidification through natural methods, such as increasing the amount of photosynthesizing marine vegetation like eelgrass and kelp, promoting production of filter-feeding shellfish operations, and spreading pulverized shells in mudflats with high acidity.

 Create an ongoing ocean acidification council to monitor the situation, recommend additional steps and educate the public. This recommendation is the only concrete legislative proposal contained within the report.

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Maine Confronts a Sea Change

July 03, 2013 18:55
By Brad Warren
Bill Mook suspected trouble in the water when he first noticed plankton blooms dwindling, raising questions about the future supply of natural feed for the clams and oysters he raises in a tidal reach of Maine’s Damariscotta River.
Over the last decade he witnessed an increase in intense storms that brought torrential rains. Mook also spotted a pattern inside his hatchery, which spawns and produces oyster “seed” for his own and other farms in the region. After heavy rains, larvae and their tank-raised microalgae feed became harder to grow. Mook saw his tiny, new-hatched oysters circling at the bottom of the tanks instead of swimming actively through the water column as usual.
This was the same larval behavior reported by West Coast oyster hatchery managers when their larvae began dying in increasingly corrosive water, threatening “seed” supplies. The worst-hit animals failed to develop properly or even to “set”—a crucial step in which bivalves pick a spot to settle down and grow up.
The veteran producer began speaking out to other growers, fishermen and resources managers. He called for investigation of changes in seawater chemistry that may soon pack the kind of wallop that nearly wiped out seed supplies for West Coast shellfish farmers in the late 2000s.
The West Coast industry managed to temporarily avert that crisis by partnering with scientists to take careful measurements and devise adaptive maneuvers. But the episode generated lessons that are rippling through the world’s seafood industry. And the underlying threat is growing. Scientists have firmly linked the Pacific Coast oyster crisis to ocean acidification, a consequence of industrial society’s swelling emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning coal, oil and gas. 
If similar effects are showing up in Maine, can the state meet the challenge?.
On the West Coast, the effort to detect and dodge corrosive water did more than protect growers. It revealed a gathering danger to seafood supplies, jobs, and coastal communities. It also enabled Washington state—the nation’s largest farmed shellfish producer—to launch a comprehensive effort to understand this threat and begin defending its fisheries and coastal waters from souring seawater. I’m proud to play a part in this work.
Just over a year ago shellfish growers and tribal leaders persuaded Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire to create a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, based on a proposal I drafted. Gov. Gregoire convened this bipartisan panel and tasked it to recommend strategies for the state to understand, adapt to, mitigate and remediate damage from acidification.
When the panel completed its report in November 2012, Gov. Gregoire promptly instructed state agencies to implement its recommendations. She reallocated $3.3 million in her budget to do the job, including funds for a new ocean acidification research center.
Washington’s initiative is the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last. Fishermen, growers, scientists, conservationists and coastal leaders are enlisting state governments to help understand the impacts of changing ocean chemistry and develop tactics to sustain seafood production and marine ecosystems.
Mook reckons it is time for Maine to devise its own strategy. “We need to get people who are stakeholders and experts and form some kind of group,” he says.
With its $330 million lobster industry, Maine has thousands of jobs at stake. Recent research has peeled back the impression that lobsters might be immune; preliminary findings in Maine and Nova Scotia show reduced growth and delayed development in high-CO2 water. Meanwhile Maine’s clam industry faces both an invasion of destructive green crabs and acidification that weakens shells, making the mollusks more vulnerable to predators.
As Maine considers its options, one lesoson from the West Coast can save a lot of trouble and money: “Turn on the lights.” That’s how Mark Wiegardt of Oregon’s Whiskey Creek Shellfish hatchery described the results when scientists from Oregon State University helped his team to measure and document effects of souring water on fresh-spawned larvae. “We wouldn’t be in business without it,” he says. One effective tactic: hatchery managers pump in seawater during sunny afternoons. By that time of day, the monitoring data show the water is “sweeter.” Whiskey Creek managers think that sun-loving seagrass near their intake soaks up enough CO2 to protect vulnerable larvae
To fix trouble, you need to see it. That’s why in Maine, my program is supporting research to help validate preliminary findings on acidification impacts on lobsters and clams. We hope these efforts can help Maine’s industry and policy leaders stave off future harm.