2012-09-20 / Editorial

New warning signs about our environment

This week we learned that the federal government has issued a disaster declaration for the New England groundfish fishery.

The declaration from the U.S. Department of Commerce came in wake of new data showing that commercial fishing stocks have not returned to levels expected by government experts when the fish catch quotas were first ordered. The Department of Commerce said that despite commercial fishermen’s adherence to strict catch limits, key fish in the Northeast ground fishery are not rebuilding. Further cuts in the fishing quotas can be expected in 2013.

Alaska and Mississippi commercial fisheries were also issued disaster declarations.

Congress can now provide emergency financial relief to those coastal fishermen who are impacted by the new quotas that have been set for the commercial stocks of flounder, haddock and cod.

On the heels of the fisheries disaster declaration came the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announcement that the ocean temperatures for the first half of 2012 have reached a record high off the coast of New England. The average temperature is about 48 degrees for the same time period for about three decades.

NOAA said that the average sea-surface temperature for the Northeast waters was just above 50.5 degrees. It broke the previous record of 50.45 degrees set in 1951.

The warmer water temperatures were found at all ocean depths, NOAA said, from North Carolina to Canada.

Scientists say the rising water temperatures are forcing the cold-water fish north in search of cooler water, which is changing the composition of species that are inhabiting the waters off of New England. In fact, scientists say the warmer ocean temperatures have an impact on all sea life – not just the commercial species. One wonders if the fishing quotas will have much effect in restoring fish stocks.

These warmer ocean temperatures are reported in the same year that much of the United States experienced one of the worst droughts in history while record-setting heat waves were reported across the country. Crops withered and agricultural disasters were declared. The economy of many farm communities has suffered.

All of these environmental upheavals are further signs of the ongoing changes in our global climate. Just recently it was reported that cocoa and coffee production in western Africa could be expected to dwindle in the next decade due to rising weather temperatures.

We are now starting to see the disturbing trend at the grocery store as the cost of grains, meat and fish continue to rise dramatically as national and world agricultural harvests suffer. These new environmental warning signs are alarming. Some experts predict that if our food production continues to suffer we could see global food riots in the coming years. That is a frightening forecast.

— Jeff McDonough

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