Press of Atlantic City
By Michelle Brunetti
December 7, 2016

LONG BRANCH — For Tom Fote, of Toms River, the decline of the lobster industry in New Jersey is proof that ocean warming is having big environmental and economic effects.

“I manage lobsters, and we saw what happened in the last 20 years. We had a huge population of lobster that grew in the mid-Atlantic. Now it’s starting to collapse,” said Fote, who is one of three New Jersey commissioners on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

He told panelists at the 12th annual Future of the Ocean Symposium, focused on priorities for President-elect Donald Trump’s administration and Congress at Monmouth University on Wednesday, that the water off New Jersey has become too warm for lobsters.

Fishermen need help dealing with the effects of climate change on their industry, he said.

Panelists at the symposium included former federal Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and Donald E. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, Maryland.

“If I were to say one thing to the incoming administration and to the president-elect, it’s, ‘Listen to your daughter.’ Ivanka believes in climate change,” Whitman said of Donald Trump’s daughter and adviser. “It has real everyday implications to our lives, and to national safety. It is a national security issue.”

Areas of sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing severe drought, and herdsmen are moving to cities, further destabilizing countries that are already struggling, Whitman said.

“It’s a breeding ground for ISIS and al-Qaeda to recruit,” Whitman said.

Boesch and Whitman are both members of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative Leadership Council, a national organization working on marine policy reform.

JOCI will give the new administration a nine-point action plan for dealing with ocean issues, Boesch said.

“Our climate is mostly about the ocean. It is storing most of the heat and storing most of the CO2,” said Boesch.

He said the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a contributor to global warming, have pretty much leveled off. But the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has continued to climb.

“There are those scientists … who are very concerned that what is happening is a reduction of the ability of the oceans to take up the CO2, a nasty feedback that can make things worse,” said Boesch.

Whitman said New Jersey is particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise, but all coastal states face similar circumstances.

“Fifty percent of our coastline is in danger of susceptibility to high water and loss of wetlands. Forty percent of American people live along the coastline,” she said.

As co-chair on an Arctic task force for the Council on Foreign Relations, Whitman has traveled to the Arctic and seen the difficulties in planning to move 31 small villages of indigenous people away from rising seas.

“These are very isolated areas. They found for one village a place to move them,” said Whitman. “But what about roads to get to them? There are no roads, there is no infrastucture.”

Infrastructure won’t be a problem along the U.S. coasts, but enormous costs will be a major challenge, she said.

“We can’t abandon our coasts. We not going to abandon our coasts, but we need to be smart about how we develop them and how we harden them against what is happening,” she said.

As serious as the loss of a lobster fishery is to New Jersey, where perhaps 30 lobster boats are based, Fote said it will be even worse when it happens in Maine, where there are about 9,000 lobster boats.

He said there already are indications that state’s waters are getting too warm for lobster, and boats will have to travel much farther for a good catch.

“It’s a huge part of Maine’s economy,” he said.

Whitman said government needs to help retrain fishermen to do other jobs or to go after a different catch.

“Livelihoods are going to have to change to a degree,” she said.