March 9, 2013

Changing ecosystem concerns fishermen

They're not alone: As Gulf of Maine waters become warmer and more acidic, scientists too worry about the implications for the region's fisheries.

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

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Jeff Runge, professor of oceanography in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine and a researcher at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, examines plankton samples to test acidity in the ocean. “It’s starting to be recognized as a serious issue. But it’s very complex,” he said.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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New York's $100 million industry has been crippled, affecting thousands of families, and the Connecticut Lobstermen's Association estimates the loss there at about $16 million per year.

The infections have not yet had a significant impact on Maine's lobster fishery; less than 1 percent have been infected, compared with 30 percent in southern New England, said Wahle.

"Those levels put the fear of God in Maine lobstermen," he said. We are perilously dependent on this one fishery."

Wahle said he has seen a slight uptick in the disease. "That raises some red flags for me," he said.

Wilson, at the marine resources department, sees an important change in people -- and how they regard the environment. In the 1970s, he said, environmental effects were assumed to be simple and relatively fixed.

But those days are over, he said, and science has yet to unravel the complex relationships among the factors that contribute to acidification, and the effects of that trend.

As perceptions of what is normal vacillate, the implications for fisheries management are profound.

"There are nuanced impacts," Wilson said. "If you're in a changing environment ... everything that's up is now down. You think you understand the system and you make your recommendations accordingly."

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


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