ELLSWORTH, Maine — With more than $400 million at stake in terms of fishing income, Maine has decided to try to do something about ocean acidification.

This past spring, the Legislature took up the matter of ocean acidification, which many scientists say threatens the health of much of ocean life. Increasing acidity levels in the world’s oceans has been blamed for dead or dying coral reefs in warmer climates and, in Maine, on the spread of lobster shell disease into the state’s cooler ocean climate.

State legislators passed a bill into law that creates a 16-member commission that will look into the issue and make recommendations for how it should be addressed. The new state law is the first on the East Coast that takes a direct approach in trying to address the problem, according to its supporters.

“We who work on the ocean observe the day-to-day effects of small changes in climate and the destruction caused by such things as ocean acidification,” Richard Nelson, a Friendship fisherman, said in a prepared statement about the new law. “We [fishermen] are solely dependent on a resource that must be managed intelligently and effectively in order for it to remain healthy and available to us.”

Nelson is one of seven members of the commission who have been appointed by Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher.

The economic implications of ocean acidification are significant in Maine, where commercial fishermen earned more than half a billion dollars in gross revenues in 2013. Species that depend on hard outer shells for survival are viewed as especially vulnerable to increasing ocean acidity.

Lobster alone generated more than $364 million in direct revenue for Maine fishermen — nearly 70 percent of all the fishing income in the entire state. Softshell clams, the third-most commercially valuable species in Maine, generated nearly $17 million more in additional revenue last year. When revenues generated further down the distribution chain are included, more than $1 billion is spent in Maine each year on locally-caught seafood, officials have estimated.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree introduced a bill in Congress similar to the law adopted in Maine at the end of April. According to information posted on her website, Pingree’s bill would “require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the socioeconomic impacts of ocean acidification on coastal communities” nationwide.

It also would require the U.S. commerce secretary “to conduct studies to identify which communities are most dependent on ocean resources and how acidification would affect them if valuable industries like the lobster fishery were impacted.”

Pingree has scheduled a news conference on the matter for 1:30 p.m. Friday, June 27, on the Portland waterfront.

“The first step toward meeting this threat is having good information and, frankly, that is lacking when it comes to the seriousness of the acidification threat,” Pingree said in a statement released last month. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about rising sea levels and the other impacts of climate change, but we need to make sure our eyes are open to the effects of acidification.”

The full membership of the state commission has not yet been made final, state officials said Thursday. The time and location of the commission’s first meeting also has yet to be scheduled.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....