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Merrimack Valley

February 6, 2013

New England climate change results 'dramatic'

Scientists warn rising temps will bring exotic sealife, lobster devastation

NEWBURYPORT — Last summer, local fishermen were surprised to catch bonita fish and black sea bass off the local coast, neither of which normally venture farther north than Cape Cod. The news made local headlines.

But that may not be so unusual in the future. Yesterday, wildlife experts from northern New England reported that warming temperatures have resulted in a variety of dramatic phenomenon in our region — ranging from tropical seahorses found in the Gulf of Maine to moose dying from severe infestations of ticks.

They expect the changes to become more dramatic in future years, and said major shifts are underway in ocean waters that will have a substantial impact on local fisheries and wildlife.

“No doubt we’ve seen some very important changes to the ecological system from climate change,” said Rick Wahle, a research associate professor from the University of Maine. “How it will all play out... is still a big question.”

The presentation was made by the Natural Wildlife Resources Council of Maine and the National Wildlife Federation to highlight a report the federation released last week on a national study that found a wide variety of climate-related impacts on land animals and sealife in the United States.

One of the harbingers of change has been the lobster industry, which Wahle called a kind of “canary in a coal mine.”

Maine fishermen have set record harvests over the past few years, perhaps due in part to higher water temperatures and fewer groundfish, which prey on young lobsters. Fishermen off Newburyport have also reported good harvests, with last year being among the best.

Meanwhile, in southern New England, it’s an entirely different story. Mass lobster kill-offs in Long Island Sound have been caused by warming waters, Wahle said, while a disease that infects lobster shells has been spreading northward through the sound and into Massachusetts waters.

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