This week, the Portland Press Herald is publishing investigative reporter Colin Woodard’s six-part series, Mayday: Gulf of Maine in Distress, about how climate change is affecting the Gulf of Maine. The problem was spelled out Sunday:
The Gulf of Maine – which extends from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Cape Sable at the southern tip of Nova Scotia, and includes the Bay of Fundy, the offshore fishing banks, and the entire coast of Maine – has been warming rapidly as the deep-water currents that feed it have shifted. Since 2004 the gulf has warmed faster than anyplace else on the planet, except for an area northeast of Japan, and during the “Northwest Atlantic Ocean heat wave” of 2012 average water temperatures hit the highest level in the 150 years that humans have been recording them.
As a result, many native species – boreal and subarctic creatures at the southern edges of their ranges – are in retreat. Lobsters populations have been shifting northward and out to sea along our coast as they’ve abandoned Long Island Sound almost entirely. Many of other commercially important bottom-dwelling fish – including cod, pollock and winter flounder – have been withdrawing from Maine and into the southwestern part of the gulf, where the bottom water is cooler.
“We’re really in the crosshairs of climate change right now,” says Andy Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, who first revealed the alarming pace of the gulf’s recent warming.
Monday, Woodward looked at the alarming collapse of puffin populations, the canary in the coal mine for the Gulf of Maine.
Tuesday, Woodard showed how cold-water species are migrating away from the coast and into deeper waters in the Gulf:
The retreat, which intensified over the past decade, includes cod, pollock, plaice, and winter and yellowtail flounder. Other native species that once ranged south of Long Island – lobster, sand lance and red hake – have stopped doing so, presumably because the water there is now too warm.
Woodard gets into the dynamics of lobsters. The figures are different in Nova Scotia, but the same general trends apply:
American lobster have been…abandoning ever warmer conditions south of Cape Cod, where a report this August from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found stocks that had “completely collapsed.” The estimated population of adult lobsters in southern New England in 2013 was the lowest on record: 10 million, or about one-fifth the level of the 1990s.
“These declines are largely in response to adverse environmental conditions including increasing water temperatures over the last 15 years combined with sustained fishing mortality,” the fisheries management group concluded, even though the lobster catch had fallen from 22 million to 3.3 million pounds since 1997. The commission is considering the results of the report, which recommends a near closure of the southern New England fishery, where hundreds of lobstermen have given up their licenses over the past 18 years.
Meanwhile, the lobster population in the colder Gulf of Maine has doubled to 250 million adult lobsters over the past two decades, even as Maine’s lobster catch has tripled. As most other commercial fish populations have cratered, most Maine fishing communities now rely almost solely on lobster, which is far and away the state’s most valuable fishery, at $457 million a year. (The figure for soft-shell clams, the closest competitor, is just $19 million.)
Robert Steneck, a lobster expert at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, believes the lobster boom is largely the result of the destruction of the gulf’s primary predator, the Atlantic cod, through centuries of intense fishing. Freed from predation and fished in a responsible manner, he says, the crustacean has been able to expand faster than lobstermen can catch them.
Woodard goes on to show that even though lobster populations are exploding in northern areas, they face a variety of problems, and the boom is not likely to last:
“We’re definitely seeing this geographic shift and it’s in keeping with the warming of the gulf,” Steneck says. “Unless something changes in terms of ocean temperature trends, the Gulf of Maine will not likely remain a great place for high lobster abundance. How long this takes to play out, whether it’s decades or centuries, nobody knows.”
It appears that the collapse of the cod fishery combined with warning waters to the south have led to an explosion of lobster around Nova Scotia, and we have retooled the bulk of the fishing industry to lobster. But I don’t think anyone much is thinking about the future: what’s going to stop these changes from continuing, and what will that mean for the Nova Scotian lobster industry?
Six or seven years ago, I heard Ron Colman of GPI Atlantic give a presentation on Nova Scotia’s fishing industry. Colman noted that the curve of the graph showing the explosion of the cod catch in the 1980s, just before the collapse of that fishery, looked a lot like the curve of the graph showing the explosion of the lobster catch in the 2000s. His point was that an increase in the amount of the catch doesn’t indicate the fishery is healthy, but rather just the opposite: that disaster may be looming just around the corner.
The alarm bells should be ringing in government and industry circles, but I fear that so long as the catch is good and John Risley can still putter around in his yacht, no one will pay attention.
2. School for the deaf abuse allegations
“The Nova Scotia government has been named as a defendant in a proposed class action lawsuit alleging systemic sexual, physical, and mental abuse against children who attended two segregated residential schools in the province,” reports CTV:
The documents filed Wednesday claim the province failed the deaf and hearing impaired children from across Atlantic Canada in their care.
“We had already 60 people who have filled out forms and have sent to us,” said lawyer Ray Wagner.
The abuse allegations, which are detailed at the link, have not been proven in court.
“An anonymous letter alleging high radiation levels in Dalhousie University’s dentistry building has prompted an investigation by Nova Scotia’s Occupational Health and Safety division,” reports the CBC:
The letter, dated Oct. 21 and addressed to several local media outlets, claims a dental assistance staff member was “exposed to radiation beyond acceptable levels” in the spring due to a failure to “provide proper radiation shielding barrier for staff.”
However, a university spokesman says that’s not the case.
4. Poet Laureate
The city is looking for the next Poet Laureate, to replace El Jones, whose term is expiring:
The Halifax Regional Municipality is seeking nominations for its next Poet Laureate to advocate and promote poetry, language and the arts throughout the region.
The Poet Laureate will be a resident poet, storyteller or spoken word artist who has achieved excellence amongst his or her peers and whose body of work demonstrates connection with and relevance to our citizens.
Serving a two-year term beginning in January 2016 and concluding in January 2018, the Poet Laureate will be an ambassador for Halifax and its residents by engaging the community in activities, programs and events that demonstrate the positive impact of literature, poetry, and spoken word.
The Poet Laureate is also expected to compose and present poems or presentations at select municipal events and Regional Council meetings, participate on the selection committee for the succeeding Poet Laureate, and liaise with municipal staff on a regular basis, including providing a written report on their experience at the conclusion of their term.
1. Blind squirrel finds broken clock
Something is going on at Halifax city hall, and I’m not certain it is all good.
It seems like key department managers have been leaving the city on a regular basis, and yet councillors seem to be more concerned about naming the donair as Halifax’s official food.
It is normal for change to happen within any large organization, but there seems to be an unusual number of people leaving the city at around the same time. Does council know something the rest of us don’t?
It is possible that individual city employees all had the same idea to leave their jobs at the same time, but there are some who believe there is more to it than mere coincidence.
Shouldn’t city council be investigating what may be going on behind the scenes at city hall rather than having staff spending valuable time putting together a study to check the validity of the donair’s claim on being Halifax’s official food?
But just when Taylor seems onto something, he veers off into an anti-government rant, hating on the Bridge Terminal and The Oval. Transit is an essential public service that should be provided by city government, as is recreation; donair-celebrating is not.
2. Cranky letter of the day
While hiking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park over the years, my husband and I have had close encounters with moose on several occasions. While it is certainly daunting to meet an animal that large in the woods, it quickly became clear that we were much more interested in the moose than the moose were in us. The moose in Cape Breton Highlands do not fear humans.
Several years ago, while travelling in the vicinity of Cape North, where the Cabot Trail leaves the national park, we turned off the trail for a short distance and came upon an encampment of dozens of trailers and recreational vehicles. A moose carcass hanging from a tripod at the side of the road made it clear that all of these people were hunting moose in close proximity to the park.
While the allure of tracking and shooting a ruminant with the cognitive powers of a small child escapes me, I can accept that some enjoy the sport. But hunting an animal by waiting for it to step across an invisible line from where it is protected to where it is open season is not a sport, a challenge or a test of skill. It may be compared to shooting fish in a barrel or cows in a field. And shooting that animal where it has been protected, inside a national park, only adds insult to injury.
Sandra Thomas, Fall River
Public information meeting (7pm, Good Shepherd Congregational Church Hall, Lawrencetown) — Bell Mobility wants to build a 75-meter cell phone tower just north of Three Fathom Harbour Road. Folks in Lawrencetown have been emailing me about this, saying it will ruin views of the beach. That may well be, but my understanding is that these things are impossible to kill, due to various telecommunications laws, which seem to trump everything else for some reason. Well, I’ve never seen one killed. Good luck all the same.
No public meetings.
This date in history
On this date in 1936, Hank Snow cut his first records, including The Prisoned Cowboy, for RCA Victor in Montreal.
Mayors Gone Bad (11:35am, LSC 242) — the Dal PR people manage to “publicize” a book reading on their event listing page without mentioning the author’s name, but Mayors Gone Bad is Philip Slayton’s look at the staggering number of Canadian mayors who have, well, gone bad. Slayton interviewed me for chapter 2, which is about Halifax’s Peter Kelly. I’m going to try to show up for the reading. I also interviewed Slayton on an episode of Examineradio.
Killer whales (3:30pm, 5th Floor Biology Lounge, Life Sciences Centre) — Dan Franks, from the University of York in the UK, will speak on “The evolution of a long post-reproductive lifespan in killer whales“:
Why females of some species cease ovulation before the end of their natural lifespan is a longstanding evolutionary puzzle. In humans as well as some natural populations of cetaceans and insects, reproductive aging occurs much faster than somatic aging and females exhibit prolonged post-reproductive lifespans (PRLSs). Determining the mechanisms and functions that underpin PRLSs has proved a significant challenge. Here we bring together both classic and modern hypotheses proposed to explain PRLSs and discuss their application with particular reference to our studies of killer whales. In doing so we highlight the need to consider multiple interacting explanations for the evolution of PRLSs.
Revolution (7pm, Ondaatje Auditorium, McCain Building) — a screening of Rob Stewart’s film, Revolution:
the true-life documentary of a remarkable journey that reveals the interconnectedness of human actions. “Startling, beautiful, and provocative, Revolution inspires audiences from across the globe to start a revolution and change the world forever.”
This is really, really scary. Watch the trailer above.
Planetarium show (7:15pm, Room 120, Dunn Building) — Star Trek edition:
Have you ever looked up in the night sky and wondered where the Klingon Empire , or the planet Rigel VII might be? Captain Schellinck of Star Fleet Academy, after a review of how to find constellations in Earth’s sky, will use the Halifax Planetarium to trace the exploits of the Star Ship Enterprise among the stars. Engage!
Five bucks at the door. Leave kids under eight years old out in the car.
Creativity and Mental Illness (7pm, Alumni Hall) — David Goldbloom will speak: “Philosophers, artists and scientists have long considered the link between creativity and mental illness. What is the nature of the connection? How does modern knowledge inform our understanding of these phenomena?”
In the harbour
No ships are arriving or departing today.
The cruise ship Saint Laurent (up to 200 passengers) is still in port today. It’ll be here tomorrow, too.
We’re recording this week’s Examineradio today.