“Ocean acidification is a pocketbook issue here. It’s about dollars and cents and jobs,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell in Massachusetts at Monday’s conference on Ocean Acidification and Southern New England. Organized by the Woods Hole Research Center, this workshop brought together fishermen, planners, ocean acidification experts, and policymakers to jumpstart action on ocean acidification. Mayor Mitchell noted, “There is no more appropriate place to discuss ocean acidification” than in New Bedford, where smart fisheries management has led to a scallop boom. In fact, the city is the sea scallop harvest capital of the U.S. and its port consistently brings in the highest commercial fishery revenue in the country each year.
The workshop began reviewing the science of ocean acidification as it relates to Massachusetts’ oceanography and fisheries. There’s still a lot to learn, particularly about how iconic fisheries like sea scallops and lobster respond to ocean acidification. But it’s clear that there is a lot to be worried about in New England. Seawater acidity is greater in these waters today than it was 35 years ago.
Folks closely affiliated with the sea scallop, oyster, lobster, and other fisheries spoke about the multiple environmental challenges they face, from coastal pollution that results in harmful algal blooms, to ocean acidification and warming. Fortunately, ocean acidification hasn’t caused measurable losses to New England fisheries yet, as it has in the Pacific Northwest with the oyster industry. But it’s clear that decision-makers in Massachusetts are starting to sit up and pay attention.
Representatives of Massachusetts state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and NOAA, joined by State Reps. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) and Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket) highlighted new opportunities and many existing initiatives that can help partially address ocean acidification. The state already has goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions statewide and decrease land-based pollution flowing into waterways.
Attendees generally seemed to favor convening a statewide study panel, such as those in Washington State, Maine, and Maryland, to assess how Massachusetts’ existing goals might expand to address ocean acidification concerns and the additional knowledge that is needed. Certainly, there is a great deal of interest in taking preventive action against ocean acidification in Massachusetts, to protect this state’s valuable and iconic fisheries and the communities and people that depend on them.