I am a 21-year-old recent graduate who grew up learning to sail on Casco Bay. I used every birthday as an excuse to go on a whale watch with my family. I still spend any free time I have at the beach. And I spent the last year of my college career doing research on the commercial fisheries industry. Protecting natural resources, and, specifically, Maine’s unique ocean ecosystems, was the motivation behind my education in environmental sciences, and it continues to be a driving force as I prepare to enter the workforce.

Maine’s lobstering industry is one of the world’s most sustainable fisheries. We recognize the importance of conservation, and its effects on longevity and continued success. Maine lobstermen used generations of industry knowledge to write their own catch restrictions; that’s why they work so well. However, these already-strict rules soon won’t be enough to sustain Maine’s lobster populations.

The Gulf of Maine is uniquely susceptible to climate change; its recorded surface temperatures are rising faster than 99 percent of Earth’s oceans. The warming ocean temperatures affect lobsters’ respiratory and immune systems, increase the chance they’ll succumb to parasitism and lower reproduction rates. All of this damage begins to happen at a stress threshold of 20 degrees Celsius, according to Rick Wahle at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center.

Based on its current rate of warming, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute predicts that the Gulf of Maine will reach this 20-degree stress threshold within the next 80 years. That gives us Mainers one human lifetime to reverse the effects our fossil fuel usage has on our ocean ecosystems and, in turn, on our economy. Don’t believe me? Ask lobstermen from Long Island Sound. Since the sound hit that 20-degree threshold about five years ago, they’ve seen a remarkable die-off of lobsters. Ask Rhode Island lobstermen. They, too, are approaching local extinction of lobster populations because of climate change.

Maine’s economy relies on the health of our ocean ecosystems. So, what can we do to protect them?

Maine’s energy consumption is supplied largely by petroleum; two-thirds of our homes are heated with it. And we still have two coal-burning generation plants. Maine has no crude oil reserves or coal mines, nor does it produce or refine petroleum or coal, so all of this energy production must be outsourced. This makes us particularly vulnerable to price spikes and supply shortages.

Burning petroleum for energy releases carbon, a harmful greenhouse gas. These emissions have been proven by scientists all over the world to be a leading cause of climate change. Why are we still buying into this industry when it is directly damaging our oceans?

Maine has the potential to harness the energy of our offshore winds, and to use that energy to power and heat our homes. The plans have been drawn, prototypes created and paperwork submitted for the Aqua Ventus offshore wind project. All that’s left is the approval of the Public Utilities Commission before construction.

This project has been delayed because of concerns about increased heating prices and the damage these turbines might do to offshore commercial fish populations. However, price estimates have gone down significantly since the project was initiated (when cost concerns would have burdened each household only by 73 cents each per month). And Block Island fishermen were interviewed after the installation of five offshore wind turbines and reported increased fish activity in the vicinity of the prototype, which appear to act as artificial reefs. However, commercial fishermen are still concerned about long-term effects caused by wind projects of a much larger scale. Like other fishermen along the Eastern Seaboard, Maine lobstermen recognize the necessity of renewable energy. But their voices need to be heard. They are integral stakeholders in this decision-making process with pertinent expertise, and should be treated as such.

It’s time for Maine to take control of our own energy production. We must take advantage of the natural resources that can work in our favor, and protect those that sustain us.

We must approve the Aqua Ventus offshore wind project, and work with the fishing industry. We must hear their concerns, and heed their advice. It’s the only way to invest in a sustainable future while preserving the livelihoods of our heritage.


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