AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are considering a bill that would establish the first formal state commission to study the effects of rising levels of acid in the Gulf of Maine.
Representatives of virtually every Maine fishery — as well as state officials, scientists, the recreation, tourism and wastewater treatment industries, environmentalists, private citizens and lawmakers — packed a public hearing Monday before the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee to advocate for L.D. 1602, which would set up an 11-member commission.
No one testified against the bill.
The commission would study the Gulf of Maine’s increasing acidic waters and seek methods to ease the problem and correct its ill effects, said Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, who introduced the measure with the support from more than 60 co-sponsors.
Ocean acidification — or the increasing percentage of acid in the ocean waters — has been a growing concern along the coastal U.S., marine scientists have reported.
The commission’s work could be underway by spring if the bill is approved by the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage. The entire cost is not expected to exceed $25,000 in public and private funding.
Devin said it was impossible to say exactly how much acidification already has hurt fisheries and other businesses, including charter tours and whale-watching boats, that operate in the Gulf of Maine. But if acidification has a significant impact on the lobster industry, the costs to the state’s largest fishery would be substantial, he said.
“If the lobster industry is affected, that’s a billion dollars right there,” said Devin, a member of the Marine Resources Committee.
Many marine scientists already have said acidification has had an impact on southern New England and increasingly in Maine waters.
“Ocean acidification is one of the biggest ocean challenges that we will face in coming years,” Meredith White, a postdoctoral research scientist in biological oceanography at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay told the committee. The negative effects are already well documented in clams, scallops, oysters and mussels, she said.
Maine’s economic health is tied to these fisheries and the coastal ecosystem as a whole and “could be affected in deleterious ways if no action is taken,” White said.
In Maine — and farther south in Rhode Island and Long Island Sound in New York — ocean acidification and rising water temperatures have been linked to decreasing fish stocks, bacterial shell disease in lobsters and the proliferation of predatory green crabs that are decimating the soft-shell clam fishery. They also have been tied to a host of changed ocean water conditions, including the chemical composition of bodies of water. Those factors are believed to be causing shellfish and finfish to migrate elsewhere, ocean scientists and commercial fishermen have reported.
Devin said the proposed commission would focus with “laser concentration” on the shellfish industry and shellfish aquaculture. But he expects that as lobsters, crab, shrimp, clams, mussels and urchins become part of the picture, the systemic links among affected species likely will become more apparent, he said.
If the bill becomes law, the commission would identify the current state of knowledge — and gaps in that knowledge — about ocean acidification in Maine and recommend actions Maine can take to rectify the negative trends.
Devin said the Marine Resources Committee will hold one or two work sessions on the bill over the next few weeks before making a recommendation to the Legislature.
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