Rising ocean temps could jeopardize Maine lobster-fishing industry

According to Climate Progress, the currently booming Maine lobster-fishing industry could be in jeopardy, if ocean temperatures continue to rise.

The publication noted that technological improvements in fishing practices were certainly a component of Maine’s record 125 million pounds lobster catch last year, but the main ingredient was the unusually warm ocean temperatures, averaging two to three degrees above normal.

Currently, ocean temperatures have hit the lobster’s sweet spot, allowing them to thrive. However, as temperatures continue to increase, the lobster immunity systems could begin to fail.

In 1999, 80 percent of lobsters off the coast of Rhode Island and Connecticut died as a result of a bacterial infection called Shell Disease, which was attributed in part to a year of record breaking heat and therefore warmer water temperatures. Temperatures off the coast of Maine are now consistently above this 1999 level, according to Climate Progress.

“The excess heat being trapped by increases in CO2 has to go somewhere and the ocean is the only part of the climate system which really has the ability to store significant amounts of heat and transport it,” ESSIC Assistant Research Scientist Andrew Harris said. “The top 3 meters of ocean hold as much heat as the entire atmosphere.”

The fact that oceans can transport heat is important, according to Harris, because water moves constantly, so a change in heating in one region could affect ocean temperatures somewhere else. “Even though the overall temperature may be increasing a little, it may be going up a lot more in a specific area,” Harris said.

Harris furthered that rising ocean temperatures would not only effects ocean-dwelling species, but impact entire ecosystems as well.

“Every species has thresholds that designate when temperatures become too high for them, at which point their ability to function is greatly impaired, as we witnessed with the lobster shell disease outbreak. Once one species starts experiencing issues, those that depend on consuming it are suddenly at risk, and eventually the whole ecosystem is in peril. Coral reefs are especially sensitive to increase in ocean temperatures,” Harris said.

Harris warns that the effects of rising ocean temperatures could extend well beyond ocean life and ecosystems, by also influencing weather patterns, storm development, storm tracks, and rainfall amounts.