Climate Change Threatens New England Seafood

BY ON June 24, 2013

fisherman on a boat

“Is this the end of the New England Fisherman?” blares the headline on the cover of last week’s Boston Globe Magazine.

I hope not. One of the joys of living near the New England seashore is savoring the bounty of its chilly waters. As a lifelong resident, I have feasted on lobsters and clams in the summer, Wellfleet oysters redolent with salt brine in the spring and fall, and, in winter, warmed my chilly bones on fish chowder loaded with our local cod.

But like so much else, the fish and shellfish that have delighted Yankee taste buds for centuries —and are the livelihood of the fishermen interviewed in that Globe article — are becoming less plentiful due to pollutants and climate change.

Global warming has pushed up average water temperatures for the region between two and four degrees Fahrenheit. According to scientist, Heather Goldstone,

“That has many marine species on the move in search of more comfortable water temperatures. Cod, mackerel, and yes, lobster, are all on that list.”

Lobsters, she writes,

“… are exquisitely sensitive to water temperatures above sixty eight degrees Fahrenheit. They get stressed, become susceptible to disease, and start to move away. Around 1998, the number of days each year that water temperatures rose above that mark more than doubled, like someone had flipped a switch.”

Furthermore, when carbon dioxide from fossil fuels enters the atmosphere, some of it ends up in the ocean, altering its delicate chemistry, and increasing its acidity.

As a result, marine species like corals and oysters don’t get the minerals they need to build hard skeletons and shells. There’s little doubt that acidification combined with overfishing, and warming oceans from climate change will negatively impact New England’s seafood population.

A smaller local seafood population isn’t the only threat to the New England dinner plate, however. Other toxins, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can also be found in local waters, making remaining sea life unsafe for human consumption.

For example, Massachusetts’ New Bedford Harbor is the number one fishing port in the country yet fishing in the harbor itself is banned. A recent article in Southcoast Today, notes that the fish there are loaded with PCBs that were released into the harbor’s waters between 1938 and 1973 by nearby factories such as the electrical component manufacturer Aeorvox. According the article’s author, Ariel Wittenberg,

“Though air and skin exposure to the chemicals is dangerous, humans are most at risk of becoming sick from PCB exposure by eating the contaminated fish that swim among the toxins.”

Furthermore, the article states that some local residents use the harbor as a food source and continue to fish for their dinner there in spite of the ban —and in spite of the EPA’s assertion that its clean-up efforts won’t be sufficient to make the harbor’s fish safe to eat.

Dumping toxins into the harbor ceased 40 years ago, yet the poisonous effects remain.

That is why it is essential that we stop corporate polluters NOW, by demanding that the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which curtail mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, stay in effect. Don’t let corporate polluters continue to spew poisons into our food chain by stalling implementation of the MATS with costly and time-consuming lawsuits. 

Photo used with permission: Ben Scott


TOPICS: Climate Change, Food, Mercury Poisoning, New England