Commission on Ocean Acidification is Now Law

Senator Cyr, Rep. Fernandes today outlined new commission...
Rep. Dylan Fernandes and State Senator Julian Cyr talk about the new Ocean Acidification Commission (Courtesy of Senator Cyr)

BARNSTABLE — Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) and Representative Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) held a press conference today to discuss the formation of legislation, which is now law, that calls for a special commission to determine the extent to which coastal and ocean acidification impacts commercially valuable marine species along the Massachusetts coastline. The establishment of this commission aims to address critical scientific and general knowledge “gaps” that may hinder the Commonwealth’s ability to craft policy and other responses to coastal and ocean acidification.

The press conference was held at the Cape Cod Oyster Company in Marstons Mills, with local leaders from Barnstable County, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Marine Biological Laboratory, local aquaculture and shellfish business owners, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, among others.

Senator Cyr and Rep. Fernandes both filed legislation relative to studying the acidification of our oceans in January 2017. Senator Cyr then successfully proposed the text of the bill as an amendment to the Environmental Bond Bill in June 2018, which was signed by the Governor in August 2018.

“The acidification of our oceans is yet another significant and emerging threat due to climate change,” said Senator Julian Cyr. “In the absence of federal leadership on climate change and sound ocean management, we must do more in Massachusetts to show leadership on our marine environment. The work of this commission will help us better plan for the changes to come, especially to safeguard the Cape & Islands’ vibrant aquaculture industry.”

"The rapidly acidifying ocean around the Cape and Islands and the entire state puts our half billion dollar shellfishing industry at risk,” said Representative Dylan Fernandes. “This commission on ocean acidification will bring together scientists, fishermen and women, and policymakers to work to preserve this economically, environmentally, and culturally important industry on the Cape and Islands."

“It was extremely important to the Environmental Bond Bill Conference Committee that we address the serious threats of ocean acidification, and I want to thank Senator Cyr and Representative Fernandes for their leadership on this issue,” said Representative Smitty Pignatelli, Chairman for the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. “I especially want to thank Rep. Fernandes for his guidance in educating me on the importance of this topic. Coastal and ocean acidification is a critical issue affecting Massachusetts coastal communities, and I look forward to the necessary progress that is to be made through the findings of this study.”

“By working together to evaluate the impact of ocean acidification on our marine food web and fisheries, this commission will make a difference in how Massachusetts can help those who make a living on our ocean," said WHOI Deputy Director Larry Madin. "Researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been working with our local fishing and aquaculture communities to understand the likely impacts of ocean acidification. We look forward to taking an active role in this commission to help protect and grow our jobs in the fishing economy."

“The Marine Biological Laboratory appreciates the efforts of Senator Cyr and Representative Fernandes to bring coastal and ocean acidification to the forefront through this legislation,” said David Mark Welch, Director of Research.  “Our scientists look forward to serving as a resource to the commission as it works to determines the impact of ocean acidification on our region’s commercially valuable marine species.”

“The chemistry of our oceans is changing because of the fossil fuels we burn and the carbon pollution it creates,” said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. “The implications of ocean acidification for shellfish and for the planet’s marine ecosystems are ominous. But this urgent environmental problem is also an economic problem that will have significant ramifications for our own local marine economy. This legislation will help us in establishing an appropriate, science-based response to this environmental challenge.”

"Our aquaculture community is such an important part of the year-round blue economy that we are trying to build here on Cape Cod," said Seth Rolbein, Director of the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust at the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance. “We appreciate and support any initiative that protects these businesses. We are grateful to Senator Cyr and Rep. Fernandes for their efforts."

“In order to capitalize on the enormous growth opportunities of the aquaculture sector, it is imperative that the island and Massachusetts be prepared for the effects of ocean acidification and have the ability to quickly adapt to the needs of the industry and environment,” said Dan Martino, Owner of Cottage City Oysters, of Oak Bluffs. “Ocean acidification legislation filed by Senator Cyr and Representative Fernandes has helped make this possibility a reality.”

“As a director of a non-profit charged with the sustainability of the fishery on Nantucket we welcome any and all efforts towards this end and thank Senator Cyr and Rep. Fernandes for their efforts,” said Bruce Beni, Co-President of the Nantucket Shellfish Association.

“This commission is a common sense approach,” said Brad Mitchell, Deputy Executive Director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation. “Assess the problem, and use the data and results to fix the problem.”

The Cape and Islands is a region where aquaculture is one of the few full-time, economically sustaining professions. In 2015, Cape Cod aqua-culturists harvested $12.7 million in oysters and quahogs. However, ocean acidification occurs when the pH level of seawater is reduced by increased carbon dioxide levels, which causes the ocean to become under-saturated with calcium carbonate minerals—the building blocks for the shells of many organisms, most notably shellfish. When carbon dioxide pollutes shellfish waters, shell-fishermen are the first to encounter economic hardship

This commission will identify contributing factors to coastal and ocean acidification and develop methods to mitigate any harmful impacts. The commission will also conduct public hearings and elicit involvement with scientists, important fisheries and other aquaculture industries within the Commonwealth.

The special commission will be comprised of 17 members, including lawmakers, appointees of the Governor, representatives of environmental or community groups, fishermen, those in the aquaculture and lobster industries, and scientists specializing in coastal and ocean acidification. It will form in the coming weeks, with a report expected due in late 2019.


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