The Gulf of Maine is warming up, and subsequently the ecosystems it supports are changing. This could mean big trouble for the coastal communities in Maine that rely heavily on the fishing industries to support their local economies.

I recently sat down and spoke to Matt Dzaugis, a research associate at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, and came away with this understanding: There is no doubt that the Gulf will continue to warm, but with some hard work and most importantly, adaptability, we may be able to survive the current environmental threat.

It’s been another hot summer for the Gulf of Maine, according to Matt. As the seas continue to warm, the coast of Maine seems to be ahead of the curve. “In the past three decades, the Gulf of Maine has warmed three times faster than the global average. Over the past 15 years, the basin has warmed at seven times the global average,” according to NASA. This warming has led to notable changes in the waters along the coast of Maine and New England, perhaps most noticeably the increased number of sharks and the northward movement of many species, including those vital to the economy.

“What’s happening is that it’s causing a shift in species,” said Matt, “lobsters, for example: As waters continue to warm, the lobster population is projected to shift a bit northward …  (and) perhaps go a little more offshore.” Of course lobsters are not the only species that will likely migrate north as a result of the Gulf’s warming; however, they are a critical example because they show how this warming could have an effect on the economy and the local community. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand a shift in the lobster population could change how many coastal communities operate. So how can Mainers keep their lifestyle and fishing- and ocean-based businesses going strong? Like the species in the Gulf, they will likely have to adapt in order to survive.

Firstly, “people have to be willing to adapt,” Matt noted, and as soon as he made this remark he acknowledged that change can be difficult, especially for communities that have been fishing for generations so that it has become ingrained as part of their lifestyle. Changing an industry in order to keep up with the warming waters does not necessarily mean drastic changes in the actual fishing or farming. Instead, “embracing new technologies that are coming on board … could be (a) way… to adapt as well,” Matt told me when we spoke with him near the end of July.

This adaptability, he said, might look like “embracing a new industry that pops up … there are a lot of new mussel and kelp farms that are coming along.” The warming waters are currently causing a shift in the ecosystem that we as Mainers depend on, but we can still find ways to keep our historic fisheries alive and add new ones to the mix. With awareness, scientific advancements, new industries, good data and some hard work, Mainers should be able to keep their ocean-based economy alive and well amid the current warming.

The fight against climate change and warming waters in the Gulf of Maine is not a lost cause. We should be able to persevere through the crisis, at least as it is now and how it is projected to be, if we limit our environmental impact moving forward.

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