Driving down around the point, I stopped where I could look out from my truck’s window and take in the lower end of Friendship Harbor. There my old F/V Pescadero now tugged on someone else’s mooring painter and still a little upon my soul seeing her there. Now retired, I recall the many lobsters that have passed over the Pescadero’s washboards.
I think as well about the future of lobster fishing in Maine and how warming and acidifying waters might affect the industry. Will other fishermen have to share this experience of looking out over their harbors feeling the loss of being idled before their time?
I have often felt like a triple poster boy for clean air and water: My concerns for the health and well-being of the lobster industry, the overriding health of the ocean itself, and my daily battle with chronic-obstructive pulmonary disease all have converged to make me acutely aware that they share a single foe in the burning of fossil fuels and the polluting of our atmosphere.
Maine’s lobster industry, realizing we are dependent on a healthy ocean as well as an abundance of lobsters, has a long established heritage of conservation and has made choices over time that helped create a fishery that is flourishing while others are not. Our good management decisions could well be an example to decision-makers who mistakenly believe that momentary gain from relaxation of environmental regulations somehow benefits us in the long run. Working in the natural world, fishermen realize that a healthy environment and its resources feed our economy.
As fishermen we’ve seen how lobster change in their molts and life cycles, as well as in their migrations and abundance. We’ve seen economically important species disappear and the anomalous or the invasive species show up. We’ve seen the toxic algal blooms, fish die-offs and fishery closures. We’ve fished through the warming and the increases in severe weather.
But fishermen are not the only ones witnessing changes. Anyone spending time outside, be they hunters, gardeners or the linemen who helped restore our electricity after the recent windstorm, know of and could speak to changes they’ve seen. Nor are lobsters the only species with special iconic connections to Maine that might be in jeopardy. From moose to puffins, there is a long list of species whose habitat are already at the lower portion of their range and hang in the balance. We who have spent time in their environment intuitively sense the fragility of their existence, and it serves to kick-in that heritage of conservation within us.
We find ourselves facing environmental challenges beyond our localized control and more complex than our management systems can affect. We must now reach out to those responsible for bringing about the carbon policies that will enable us to maintain healthy oceans, forests and resources on which we depend. We need to choose a direction on environmental issues that will lead us forward and not have us stumbling back into the past.
The present administration has chosen to take us backward. The Environmental Protection Agency’s draft strategic plan navigates an extremely dangerous course, refusing to recognize the threats of climate change and all it entails. The administration appears bent on reversing our progress on clean water and air, as well as gains not yet realized, trying to halt vehicle emissions standards from which we’ve all benefited and eliminating the Clean Power Plan, an EPA program that would reduce power plant emissions by 32 percent over 2005 levels. On top of this, the administration has announced plans to expand offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters, including the Atlantic coast.
One can only stop and ask why? What we need is a government that looks to our environmental, economic and physical well-being. What we don’t need is to accelerate conditions that might make Maine hard for us all to recognize.
Richard Nelson has fished for lobster for more than 30 years. He is a member of the Maine Ocean Acidification Commission and the Maine Regional Ocean Planning Advisory Group. He lives in Friendship.
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