ROCKLAND, Maine — Officials with a local group dedicated to sustaining Maine’s island and remote coastal communities are calling for a more integrated fisheries management approach and improved communications among the people involved as a way to help fishermen be prepared for climate change.
Water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are on the rise and, as a result, populations of commercially fished species in the gulf are experiencing significant changes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Island Institute.
The changes are expected to have continuing repercussions for residents of coastal communities that depend on those species for their livelihoods, institute officials said, and a more comprehensive management approach is needed if fishermen are going to be able to adapt.
“Climate change is significantly impacting New England fisheries, and what fishermen are observing is vital to understanding the science of the problem,” Heather Deese, the institute’s vice president of strategic development, said Wednesday in a prepared release. “Bringing together local observations with global climate science is the best way to fully understand the scope of the problem so that we can think through solutions.”
In recent years the state’s lobster, elver and shrimp fisheries all have been significantly affected by environmental factors. Island Institute officials say there are things that can be done to better prepare fishermen for the continuing changes, the specifics of which can be hard to anticipate. They recommend:
— Managing marine systems with an ecosystem-wide approach, rather than managing each species separately.
— Increasing communication between fishermen and scientists.
— Improving official resource assessment methods to help management measures keep pace with environmental changes.
“These recommendations are crucial, because they are based in both scientific and practical understandings of oceans and fisheries,” Nick Battista, the institute’s director of marine resources, said in Wednesday’s statement.
The report released Wednesday stems from a conference last summer in Portland that was hosted by the institute. More than 100 fishermen, scientists, fisheries managers and policy makers attended the two-day event to discuss how New England fisheries are being affected by climate change.
The biggest fishery in Maine by far is the lobster fishery, which accounts for 65 percent of the total dockside value of all commercial fisheries in the state. Commercial fishery landings in Maine had a total value of $527 million in 2012, with lobster landings generating $340 million in gross revenues for licensed lobstermen.
That total is a record annual value for the lobster fishery, but 2012 was one of the more tumultuous years the industry has experienced in recent memory — and many say warm temperatures in the gulf are mostly to blame.
A resulting early molting season in 2012 and heavy springtime landings, when demand for Maine lobster is low, pushed prices fishermen got for their catch to their lowest levels in decades. Later in the summer, the cheap price of Maine lobster imports in Atlantic Canada resulted in blockades and protests by Canadian fishermen — and at least one instance in which a truck of Maine lobster was forced to turn around and return to Maine without unloading its cargo.
But, as institute officials have noted, Maine’s lobster fishery is not alone in being affected by warmer temperatures. Markedly higher elver landings, significantly declining shrimp catches and a northeasterly shift in cod habitat all have been linked by scientists and regulators to climate change.
Getting fishermen, scientists and regulators to have ongoing discussions about a broad range of fisheries can help coastal communities better understand the potential impacts of climate change, Island Institute officials said in the report.
The full report can be found online at the institute’s website, www.islandinstitute.org.