Newswise — Charles H. Greene, professor of Earth and Atmospheric sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Science at Cornell University and a fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, says a rapidly changing climate will dramatically change the living marine resources and maritime traditions of seacoast communities, like those of New England and must be accounted for by those responsible for managing the nation’s marine living resources.

Greene says: “Climate strongly impacts populations of three of the most iconic marine species in New England coastal waters: the American lobster, Atlantic cod, and the North Atlantic right whale. The waters of the Gulf of Maine have warmed more rapidly during the past decade more than over 90 percent of the global ocean. This warming has negatively impacted the cod population, while it has led to an increase in the lobster population. If this warming trend continues, then the distributional range for cod will gradually shift to the north, and the Gulf of Maine will likely be unable to support a viable cod fishery in future decades.

“While the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine has been thriving recently under the warmer ocean conditions, it will likely also suffer severe impacts in the coming decades with continued warming. It is very likely that the bacterial Epizootic Shell Disease, which devastated the Long Island lobster fishery beginning in 1990 and has been wreaking havoc in the Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts lobster fisheries during more recent years, will soon begin to take its toll on the Maine lobster fishery. Epizootic Shell Disease range has been shifting northward with warming ocean temperatures, and the disease began to be observed in some lobsters caught off Kittery, Maine in 2013. Fisherman and managers alike must begin to prepare now for the Epizootic Shell Disease outbreak that it almost certain to come.

“In addition to the commercially important cod and lobster, the endangered North Atlantic right whale is also at risk from these warming ocean temperatures. The right whale population has exhibited a 10-year cycle of recovery between 1980 to 2010, alternating from rapid population growth during the 1980s to slow growth during the 1990s and then back to rapid growth during the 2000s. It has been shown that this decadal cycle has been remotely forced by changing climatic conditions in the Arctic. Such remote forcing from the Arctic has been mediated by ecosystem changes in the Gulf of Maine that impact prey availability to the right whales. If the rapid warming of the Gulf of Maine continues, then the distributional range for the most nutritionally important prey species for right whales is predicted to shift northward and gradually decline in abundance. This change in prey availability will likely have a devastating impact on the right whale population, forcing it to shift its own distributional range to the north or face eventual collapse.”

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