Economy is affected by dwindling numbers
By Deborah Mcdermott
Freshwater fish are dying in New Hampshire and Maine due to extreme weather events coupled with rising water temperatures from climate change, creating environmental and economic hazards, fishing experts say.
Freshwater fish are endangered nationwide due to factors arising from global warming, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Wildlife Federation. Maine and New Hampshire experts also weighed in on the report Wednesday.
According to the report, 37 percent of freshwater animals, from fish to crayfish to mussels, are considered at risk. This is due to a variety of factors, all climate-related, including nutrient pollution, sedimentation and habitat degradation, the report stated.
A key finding of the report is the impact freshwater fishing has on the economy of each state. Quoting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the report states that 209,000 anglers who spent $110.5 million came to New Hampshire in 2011. In Maine, 283,000 anglers spent $252.9 million that year, the report states.
But those numbers are dwindling, said Jason McKenzie, owner of Suds N’s Soda grocery and sports store in Greenland. He said he has to order months ahead of time to stock his shelves for ice fishermen who regularly stop by to get supplies before heading to the state’s lakes and rivers.
“Since the 1990s, we don’t know if we’re going to have a winter at all. We take a huge gamble each year buying ahead of time,” he said. Some years, he said, the store has “easily” had to absorb two-thirds of its unsold inventory.
“Last year, we got lucky. The year before, we took two steps forward and two steps back. We’d have cold weather, and that would be followed by fog and rain, which would ruin it,” McKenzie said.
In 2011, his and other sporting goods stores stocked up after an October snowstorm, yet there was only one other significant storm at the end of the season.
“We used to know what to buy,” he said of his family-run business. “We don’t anymore.”
George Smith, the former director of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, said he has seen that economic decline played out time and time again in Maine, and he said it’s due to rising water temperatures.
“Thirty, 40 years ago, hundreds of anglers would line the Penobscot River in Bangor. Now they’re gone,” he said.
He said 97 percent of the nation’s remaining brook trout live in Maine, “and we’ve done a very poor job of protecting and managing them.”
As lake water becomes warmer, he said, “if they don’t have a spring to sit in or they can’t escape to a brook or stream, they’re dead. You may not see them, but they are dead.”
Eric Orff, a New Hampshire-based wildlife biologist with the National Wildlife Federation, said there are measures that can be taken, particularly in rivers and streams to help at-risk fish. He pointed to the Winnicut River as an example. The state, for instance, took out a dam that was pooling warm waters, and the Great Bay chapter of Trout Unlimited applied for a state grant to replace a narrow culvert that was impeding the flow of brook trout on the river.
Both Orff and Smith said residents who live alongside rivers, streams and lakes can do their part by installing a vegetative buffer that will impede runoff from nitrogen and phosphorus. Orff said the Suncook River in Epsom, where he lives, “has seen three 100-year floods in the last five or six years. The river was filled with debris and (nitrogen) nutrients, the banks were eroding, trees were falling into the river. In 25 years, I haven’t seen the changes I’ve seen in the last five years,” he said.
Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said efforts have to be made nationally to stem the effects of climate change. Federal Clean Air Act standards to curb carbon from power plants are pending, standards that he said will help.
“The fact is, fishing is a central tradition and an economic foundation in Maine and New Hampshire,” he said. “It’s too important to let it slip away.”