BOOTHBAY HARBOR — I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Gov. Paul LePage speak at a conference Dec. 5 about the “upsides” of climate change opening the Northwest Passage. As a lobsterman and a shrimper, I can say for sure that the rising sea temperatures that are a direct result of climate change are nothing but a job killer for me and everyone else who works on the ocean.

I’ve been shrimping since I was a little kid, and in the past few years I have depended on catching shrimp for as much as a third of my income.

The shrimp season being canceled this year is a major hardship for me and for other shrimpers. There is no upside to the cancellation of the shrimp season for those of us trying to make ends meet. If we continue to increase the carbon pollution that is driving up water temperatures, we may never have a healthy shrimp season ever again.

The rest of the year, I catch lobster. Over the past six years now, the lobster population where I live in Boothbay Harbor has decreased a lot. The water is getting warmer – there is no second-guessing that. That’s a fact. Climate change is giving us higher water temperatures, and the same pollution increasing temperatures also causes the water to be more acidic.

Lobstermen – and scientists – have been noticing the warning signs from climate change for several years, although we still don’t know just how bad this will be for Maine’s lobster industry. What we do know is that with the warmer ocean temperatures, lobsters are more likely to stay in deeper waters, and they are heading north to colder waters in Canada.

Since warmer temperatures are keeping lobster further offshore, we’re going further out, too. There’s going to come a day when we say, “Enough is enough.” I am fishing the furthest offshore I have ever gone, and there is going to come a day when I won’t go out any further.

Since the shrimp season has been canceled, we’re going to have to depend more heavily on lobstering to earn a living. This is going to put more pressure on lobster. Near-shore lobstering is the traditional way that most of us (including tourists) associate with the working waterfronts along Maine’s coast. That is at risk, too.

Last year, warm ocean temperatures in the spring (the warmest temperatures in a decade) were a key factor in the excessive early production in softer-shell lobsters that led to the collapse of lobster prices in Maine. Prices fell to the lowest in nearly 20 years. Although this was good news for folks buying lobsters, it was very hard on lobstermen trying to earn a living.

Right now, the fishing Down East is still strong, but if water temperatures continue rise, we can only assume the effects will spread and the lobsters will move further off shore.

So when I hear LePage talk about benefits of climate change, it shows he is missing the reality of the bad situation we are in. Climate change is hurting our jobs, and it’s a threat to our entire industry. How come the governor doesn’t stick up for us fishermen?

In 2012, the lobster industry created $338 million in economic activity for Maine. There are more than 3,000 full-time and 2,500 part-time harvesters, according to the Maine Department of Marine Resources. When you add in the docks, processing, restaurants, tourism, transportation and everyone else connected to lobster and fishing, the economic impact spreads.

Climate change and its harm to the lobster industry will affect all of us and all of our families in the coming years. Aren’t lobsters one of Maine’s trademarks? Protecting them is hugely important to Maine’s identity and economy.

The fact that climate change hurts lobstermen and other fishing industries should be a concern to all Mainers, and the problem will only get worse until we take action. I support taking action to address climate change, including reducing the pollution that drives it – like from power plants burning coal in other states.

I hope Gov. LePage will change his tune and see that climate change is a real threat to the Maine economy. If we want to preserve our industry and our entire way of life, we have to take action now to combat the effects of climate change. We can’t afford to delay on this any longer.

– Special to the Press Herald

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