Lobster fishermen and others on the coast of Maine will feel the effects of climate change in the coming years, no matter how soon or how much society reduces its emission of greenhouse gases. What that change might mean is the subject of a research project initiated by the Island Institute earlier this year.

Scientists have estimated that Maine will experience a noticeable rise in sea level over the next century. The Institute and its cooperating researchers are listening to fishermen to learn about their perceptions of climate-related changes. While scientists can estimate effects of climate change, fishermen have detailed knowledge of the coastal ecosystem — and only they can accurately describe just how their livelihoods are affected when the ecosystem changes.

Lobster fishermen are highly adaptable: their success depends on a finely tuned ability to “read” the bottom, assess changes in salinity and temperature and evaluate trap hauls — and to compare all this information, on a daily basis, to the knowledge they have built up working on the water year after year. Their ability to adapt to climate change will build on their ability to adapt to seasonal, weather and other shorter-term changes.

The Island Institute would like to hear from lobster fishermen regarding their experience of the so-called Patriot’s Day storm last April, for example. Whether or not the storm was related to climate change, its ferocity — and the fact that it hit at high tide — may have mimicked the impact of climate change.

Fishermen and others with information to share regarding the effect of the Patriot’s Day storm on the lobster fishery — or boats, wharves, etc. — should contact Jen Litteral at (207) 594-9209 or jlitteral@islandinstitute.org.

Last February, several fishermen from all along the coast met to discuss what constituted a “typical” year for them: when they put their traps in, begin to see shedders or move their traps into deeper water. They also described events that didn’t fit the “typical” year. For example, in recent years some fishermen have noticed shedders earlier than usual and, for many, the most productive months of the fishery have shifted from late summer to the fall.

Participants in the Institute’s research project are currently analyzing this information with the goal of generating a report on the likely impacts of climate change on the lobster fishery. A follow-up meeting will be held this winter, prior to the Fishermen’s Forum in March. Work on the climate-change impact assessment is being completed with the help of Anne Hayden, a consultant based in Brunswick.