A sign marking the 2011 closure of Nauset Marsh for shellfishing. As of today, the entire system is again closed due to red tide.
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries has just announced that the entire Nauset Marsh system in Eastham and Orleans, on the outer Cape, is closed for shellfish harvest effective immediately due to red tide (or, more precisely, the presence of the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP).
Nauset Marsh is the subject of red tide studies because it tends to particularly hard hit. The sprawling system of wetlands and inlets has only escaped an outbreak once in the past twenty years. And a quick perusal of PSP notices from the Division of Marine Fisheries reveals that it’s usually the first spot in Massachusetts to be closed.
But this closure is notable for how early it is – a full month earlier than any other closure since at least 2005. State officials said it’s the earliest they’re aware of.
State spokesperson Reggie Zimmerman cautions that there are lots of factors that influence red tides – temperatures, wind, rain – so it’s hard to pin this bloom on any one thing. But Don Anderson, a leading red tide researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says the record warmth is a likely culprit.
The mild winter that has given many Northern farmers a break from shoveling and a welcome chance to catch up on maintenance could lead to a tough spring as many pests that would normally freeze, have not.
Winters are usually what one agriculture specialist calls a “reset button” that gives farmer a fresh start come planting season. But with relatively mild temperatures and little snow, insects are surviving, growing and, in some areas, already munching on budding plants.
The 'hook' or 'fist' of Provincetown is one of the few parts of Cape Cod that is growing.
The tiny village of Woods Hole is a mish-mash of million-dollar homes and renowned scientific institutions perched on the southern tip of Cape Cod. Much of the coast is clad in sea walls and jetties intended to hold the line against the forces of erosion. But they can’t stop the rising sea.
At a recent workshop hosted by Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Greg Berman of Woods Hole Sea Grant showed off a three-dimensional animation of what a popular restaurant perched atop one of those seawalls might look like under various sea level rise scenarios.
“So here we are at normal high tide,” he said, walking attendees through the animation. “You can bump it up to one foot of sea level rise. Three feet sea level rise. And then six feet of sea level rise.”
Sea level around Cape Cod has already risen one foot in the past century, and that rate is increasing as global temperatures rise and melting of the world’s major ice sheets accelerates. Three feet of additional rise by 2100 is now considered a moderate to conservative estimate, and six feet is within the realm of possibility. At that point, the restaurant in the animation would be flooded at high tide. Add storm surge from a major storm, and the computer-generated water levels rise to absurd heights half-way up the first-story windows – a prospect that elicited nervous laughter from workshop attendees.
“So really is it worse getting flooded to here,” asked Berman. “Is that going to matter too much more?”
Lobstermen in the Gulf of Maine have posted record harvests in recent years. But in the waters just south of Cape Cod, the situation is dramatically different. Lobster populations there crashed a decade ago and have not recovered, leaving lobstermen to face the potential closure of their fishery. In the second installment of our Cape Change series, we take a look at one of the most dramatic examples of how climate change is affecting New England’s fisheries.
Rising water temperatures are thought to be responsible for the collapse of lobster populations off the southern coast of New England.
Dick Allen was just a teenager when he dropped out of college to go lobstering with his brother-in-law nearly fifty years ago. They’d leave Westport and steam about 20 miles south to a place called Cox Ledge.
“You’d haul up a trap,” recalls Allen, “and there’d be these big lobsters that you’d have to struggle to get ‘em out of the traps.”
Over the decades, Allen watched those big lobsters disappear. By the late 80’s, he says, they were basically gone.
“It was like if you went into a town and you never saw anybody over 13 years old,” he says. “You’d say well something’s wrong here. And that’s the situation we had created in the lobster population in southern New England.”
Then, around 1998, the number of lobsters with an unsightly bacterial infection known as shell disease skyrocketed, and the population collapsed. Bob Glenn, Massachusetts’ chief lobster biologist, says shell disease is rarely fatal, so it probably didn’t cause the crash. But it does make it hard for lobstermen to sell their catch and, what’s more, it’s a symptom of a population under extreme stress. The question was what was causing the stress. Continue reading →
I couldn’t have timed this better if I’d tried … which I didn’t. The Daily Climate today features an essay about the very same psychological impacts of climate change that Hector Galbraith referenced in the first part of our Cape Change series. So I’m reposting the essay here in full.
Photo courtesy OutsideBozeman.com
Skiers on the Bozeman Creek trail in Sourdough Canyon in Bozeman, Mont., on a snowy day. Winter in 2012 has left many skiers in Bozeman frustrated.
By Alan S. Kesselheim
for The Daily Climate
BOZEMAN, Mont. – About three miles up the ski trail I start thinking about the “new normal.” In Montana this February this new reality leaves out winter as we know it. It’s a state in which one inch of overnight snowfall is enough to goad me out onto the trail. I catch myself rationalizing conditions, thinking things are pretty good, when, in fact, conditions suck by any historic measure.
Given the alternatives, three miles up into the woods on skis, with an inch of new snow on top of pavement-hard ice seems pretty cush.
This season’s weather seems ominous, off-kilter. It makes me nervous.
At the same time, I can’t complain. My sister, in New England, reported spring flowers starting to peek above ground in February and birds migrating a month ahead of schedule. People I know in northern Minnesota were whining about not being able to go ice fishing in January because there was no ice. They saw people out in boats where, normally, ice shacks hunker over red-and-white fishing bobbers.
If you read any of the news coverage of the recently released assessment of Gulf of Maine cod, you probably came away with three things.
Olga Caprotti / Flickr
Fishermen are seriously questioning the new assessment (this was the focus of many mainstream media reports, not to mention a lot of political rhetoric).
The 2011 assessment – which indicates that the stock has been overfished in recent years and stands no chance of reaching rebuilt status by 2014, as hoped – was a dramatic reversal from the previous (2008) assessment, which had suggested that Gulf of Maine cod was on the rebound. The discrepancy is one reason fishermen have greeted the report so skeptically.
The revised assessment has put the fear of God severe catch restrictions – if not this year, then in subsequent years – into New England fishermen. That’s another reason fishermen and politicians are subjecting the new numbers to such scrutiny.
What you probably didn’t get was a good explanation of why the two assessments were so different. Have cod stocks really evaporated in the past three years? Or was one of the assessments in error? And, if so, which one? A few articles referred to the fact that there were differences in the data and computer model used. But the details I crave were sorely lacking.
There’s actually some good news to be found in the 2011 assessment. Both Brooks and Palmer are of the professional opinion that the actual status of the cod stock has not changed dramatically over the past three years, and that it definitely hasn’t crashed. In fact, they think it has been slowly rebuilding over the past several years – the latest three included. Continue reading →
Yesterday afternoon, this tweet by ClimateCentral’s Heidi Cullen grabbed my eye:
@HeidiCullen: On this anniversary of Snowmageddon, a quick comparision: 2/6/11: 48.3% US #snow covered – 2/6/12: 26.2%: bit.ly/83ViYS #climate
22% seems like a big difference, but the data geek in me wanted more information. I went to the National Snow Analyses website and grabbed the data for snow cover on February 6th of the past nine years. Over that time, the portion of the U.S. covered by snow on February 6th (green line/area) has fluctuated around an average of 40.9% (orange line). In this context, neither this year nor last year seems terribly unusual.
This afternoon, the New England Fishery Management Council will hear first-hand about the dire 2011 Gulf of Maine cod assessment and take up the question of how to respond, specifically whether to recommend so-called ‘interim measures’ that might be more lenient than the dramatic cuts in catch limits mandated by federal law. In anticipation of that, 19 New England lawmakers have penned a letter to Secretary of Commerce John Bryson asking him to accept any recommended actions and to put serious effort into reviewing and improving the stock assessment process. In statements included in a press release about the letter, members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also called for financial aid for fishermen if catch limits are slashed, and continued to criticize the catch shares management system and NOAA’s relationship with New England fishermen in general.
At the core of the debate over the new assessment is the fact that it contradicts two things: the previous (2008) assessment, and many fishermen’s sense of the stock’s health. Tension between fishery scientists, who like to rely on what’s known as fishery-independent data, and fishermen, who want their experience on the water to be given greater weight, is as old as fishery management itself (which isn’t really that old, in the big picture, but dates back a few decades anyway). The starkly contrasting assessments are more unusual – the result, it appears, of new data and some changes in the analysis process.
Both raise hard and valid questions: What is the best way to assess the size and health of a fish population? How close are we to that ideal? And how could we get closer?
While the Council is meeting in Portsmouth, NH this afternoon, those are the sorts of questions I’ll be taking up with two members of the cod assessment team here in Woods Hole.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has denied a request for a new assessment of cod stocks.
Imagine you’ve been asked to redo three years worth of work in three months. Oh, and get a different result this time. I’m guessing you’d be grumpy. I know I would be.
Well, that’s basically what Senator Kerry and others pushing for a new assessment of Gulf of Maine cod were asking federal fishery scientists to do. So I can’t say that I was surprised to hear late last week that the request had been denied. Here’s the (extremely brief) AP story:
BOSTON (AP) _ The nation’s oceans chief has turned down a request made first by Sen. John Kerry for a new assessment of the health of Gulf of Maine cod.
New data indicates cod is badly overfished, and fishermen now face ruinous cuts in their catch. The data has drawn skepticism from fishermen because it’s a reversal of a recent, optimistic study.
In December, Kerry asked for a new cod assessment that fishermen can trust.
In a reply earlier this month, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco said a new assessment can’t be done in time for managers to make decisions for the May start of the fishing year.
She also said the agency doesn’t yet have new data needed to move ahead with further assessments. She assured Kerry she is committed to helping fishermen.
While I’m sure some will label Lubchenco’s comments stonewalling, the kicker is it’s true. Fishery scientists spend months at sea conducting surveys, then combine that with a multitude of other data sources to generate their best estimate of a given fish stock’s size and health. That process can’t possibly be crammed into the three months remaining before the start of the 2012 fishing season.
The alternative, I suppose, would be to reexamine the existing data. But consider this: if such a reassessment did produce a different answer, would what amounts to another reversal really be more trustworthy? Or simply more convenient?