June 26, 2019

Time to Wake Up: Something Fishy Going On


Mr. President, it is a great honor and pleasure to join the senior Senator from Connecticut on the floor today. We were both U.S. attorneys. We were attorneys general together. We now serve in the Senate together, and I consider him a friend outside of my day job as well. It is terrific to be here with him. It is also a happy coincidence that a Senator from another great fishing State, Louisiana, should be presiding while we speak about our fisheries. This is my 247th of these speeches.

Rhode Island, of course, shares a border with Connecticut, as well as a proud fishing heritage and connection to the sea. Whether you are walking the docks of Stonington and New London or of Newport and Point Judith, the story from our fishermen is the same—that these are not the waters that our grandparents, parents, and great-grandparents fished. One fishermen told me: ‘‘Sheldon, it’s getting weird out there, and it’s a big economic deal that it’s getting weird out there.’’

In 2017, commercial fishery landings from Connecticut and Rhode Island totaled over $114 million, and that was just the landings. That was not the ancillary fishing economy around it. Carbon pollution and warming, acidifying oceans put that whole economy at risk.

Earlier this month, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that by 2100, around 17 percent of all ocean life, by biomass, will disappear. In February, the journal Science found that since 1930, we have already lost around 4 percent of our harvestable seafood due to ocean warming, and the fish that we are still able to harvest are getting smaller due to warming temperatures and depleted oxygen levels. A 2017 study warned ‘‘the body size of fish decreases 20 to 30 percent for every 1- degree Celsius increase in water temperature,’’ and the water is warming.

Oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the excess heat that has been trapped by our greenhouse gas emissions. Of all of the excess heat that has been trapped by greenhouse gas emissions since we began the Industrial Revolution and started burning all of these fossil fuels, 90 percent of it has gone into the oceans.

How much is that?

The Federal Government’s 2017 Climate Science Special Report from NOAA, NASA, the Department of Energy, and others found that the oceans had absorbed more than 9 zettajoules of heat energy per year.

What is a zettajoule?

A zettajoule is 9 billion trillion joules. They are not jewels like your grandmother’s earrings. They are joules as a measure of energy.

From 1998 to 2015, the oceans had absorbed more than 9 billion trillion joules. That is a rate of more than 12 times the total energy use of humans on the planet. If you want a more vigorous, a more kinetic description of what that heat load is like, visualize the power of a Hiroshima-style atomic bomb with its classic mushroom cloud erupting into the sky. Imagine all of that energy from that nuclear blast being captured just as heat. Now imagine four Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs exploding every second. That is the excess heat that is going into our oceans from climate change—more than four atomic bombs’ worth of excess heat energy being absorbed by the oceans every second of every day of every year. That is a lot of heat energy, and adding it to the oceans has consequences.

The global average ocean surface temperature was already up around 0.8 degrees Celsius, or 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, since before the carbon pollution of industrial times began, and the rate is accelerating. According to NOAA, ‘‘the global land and ocean temperature departure from average has reached new record highs five times since 2000.’’ The rapid rise in ocean temperatures is forcing species that were once southern New England icons to abandon our waters for cooler, deeper, northerner seas. A 2018 NOAA-funded study warned that hundreds of commercially valuable species are being forced northward as oceans warm.

For Rhode Island, squid is now king. In 2017, around 60 percent of the longfin squid and 63 percent of northern shortfin squid caught in the United States were landed in Rhode Island. According to NOAA, Rhode Island’s share of the catch was valued at over $28 million. In my State, that is a big deal. Remember, that is just the landing value. That is not the surrounding economic value. Climate change is putting that—our precious calamari—at risk. Squid is Rhode Island’s most valuable fishery with its having accounted for nearly 30 percent of all of our States’ landings, by value, in 2017.

Rhode Island once had a booming lobster fishery. The lobster population shifted north as our waters warmed, and it left Rhode Island’s lobster traps empty. NOAA reports what we already know: ‘‘The lobster industry in New York and southern New England has nearly collapsed.’’ Maine is temporarily benefiting from the northern movement of lobster, but the lobster is expected to keep moving north, into Canada, as we keep warming the oceans.

In January, the Washington Post ran this amazing piece as part of its ‘‘Gone in a Generation’’ series. It featured the stories of Rhode Island and Maine lobstermen who deal with our changing ocean.

New England’s fishermen also see declining shellfish populations. The total landings for eastern oysters, northern quahogs, soft-shell clams, and northern bay scallops all declined 85 percent between 1980 and 2010. NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center identified warming ocean temperatures as the culprit. As climate change warms the oceans, all of that excess CO2 in the atmosphere chemically acidifies the oceans as 90 percent of the heat is absorbed by the oceans and 30 percent of the CO2 is chemically absorbed by the oceans— out of the atmosphere and into the seas. It acidifies the oceans, and for many species, that is a double whammy. Sea scallops were one of the Nation’s most valuable fisheries and Connecticut’s most valuable species in 2017 landings. So let’s look at that one.

Ocean acidification and warming both trouble sea scallops. Scallops and other shellfish extract calcium carbonate from ocean waters around them in order to build their shells. Acidic waters decrease the chemical availability of that compound, and if you actually get it high enough, you actually dissolve the shells of living creatures. In 2018, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution warned that ocean acidification ‘‘could reduce the sea scallop population by more than 50 percent in the next 30 to 80 years under a worst-case scenario.’’

While we in the Senate struggle to free our Chamber from the remorseless political grip of the fossil fuel industry, our fishermen pay the price. The oceans are warming too fast for us to respond to rapid changes in fish stocks. So, in our States, black sea bass and summer flounder—both species mentioned by Senator BLUMENTHAL—are poster children for this disconnect.

He mentioned his fisherman Bobby Guzzo in the article from Greenwire, and Rhode Island’s fishermen are telling me exactly the same thing. The Science Director for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center says, ‘‘Much of our management assumes that conditions in the future will be the same as they have been in the past,’’ but that is no longer true. We are already so off base from historical trends and data that we can no longer rely on that history to forecast where fish populations will be.

So black sea bass and summer flounder head north toward cooler waters from the Mid-Atlantic States, which used to be the home base. You would think, as they did, that it would make sense for the catch allocations of that fish to move northward with them. The blue is the base of where most of the black sea bass food stock existed back in the seventies. Up here is the base right now. That is the Chesapeake Bay. There is Rhode Island—there at the hook of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

It is a big move up into our space, but did the catch limits move up with it? No. Southern States were unwilling to give up their quotas, which left our fishermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island to fish our northeast waters with an abundant catch they couldn’t harvest. Imagine the frustration as Rhode Island, Connecticut, and other New England States don’t have a vote on a critical fishery management council that makes this decision to put our fishermen at a severe disadvantage to fight for their right to the fish that are now settling up here in southern New England. Our fishermen have to throw back valuable fish from lobster pots and from nets because our fisheries’ management rules haven’t caught up with their ocean reality.

We have to update how we manage these shifting fish stocks as climate change moves fish populations around. We must speed research and catch limits to match what fishermen actually see in the water. Our fishermen and our coastal economies depend on it.

I am very grateful to Senator BLUMENTHAL, my outstanding colleague from Connecticut, for joining me today. Together, we will continue to fight for a day when our Rhode Island and Connecticut fishermen can foresee their children and grandchildren continuing their long tradition of fishing the seas.

We strive for meaningful action on climate change and ocean acidification, for updated fisheries and climate modeling, and for improvements on how we manage these stocks. To save our seas and to save our fishing economies, we must wake up to the threat of climate change and respond to these consequences that real fishermen are seeing in their real nets and boats every single day.

I yield the floor.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from Connecticut and I be allowed to engage in a brief colloquy.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, after that eloquence, I hesitate to even add anything, but the urgency of his plea and the need to hear the voices of these fishermen brings to mind this photograph, which was taken from the Greenwire article. In fact, it is of a boat in Stonington Harbor during a visit by President Trump in 2017 to the Coast Guard Academy in New London. The banner on this boat reads: ‘‘Please help us.’’

We need help for the fishermen of our Nation, whether they be in Louisiana or Rhode Island or Connecticut, because of this completely obsolete, obscenely outdated system that is depriving them of decent livelihoods, depriving our Nation of sufficient fish nutrition, and depriving our Nation and our world of an end to climate change.

I would ask my colleague from Rhode Island very briefly, does he believe that the administration is heeding that message, not only behalf of the fishermen of Stonington in Connecticut— please help us—but on behalf of the planet to please help us stop global warming and climate change? Is this administration acting sufficiently?

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Well, clearly, when it comes to climate change, this administration is embarrassing itself and our country with the factually and scientifically preposterous claims that they make, and the nonsense denial that they continue to propagate is going to be, I think, a lasting blot on our country, as the rest of the world looks to us for leadership and sees instead more fossil-fuel-funded denial and treacherous political behavior by the industry that guides, very often, the hands of people in government. So from that point of view, it is a complete train wreck.

From the point of view of helping the fishing communities, they have actually been taking it on the chin for a while. I will say a good word for the fishing communities. I think they have really tried to do their best. When we asked the fishing community to consider moving to a catch shares type of regulatory model, a lot of them didn’t like it, but a number of them tried it, and they realized they actually could make it work and it actually improved their business prospects. So that move has been one that has not been easy for them to make, but more and more they have made it, and they have been able to see how it works better for them to be able to share catches.

If somebody is out at sea having a great day, instead of having to go back in, they can get on the radio to somebody and say: I am having a great day out here. It is cheap for me to stay out here. I will keep fishing if you will give me some of your catch. You can stay home. And they work out the deal over the radio.

That has been a good thing, but, again, it is not easy for them. And they have also really stepped up, as Senator BLUMENTHAL knows so well, in our regional ocean planning, the offshore planning. The fishermen have come forward, and they have participated. They have been, I think, very fair and productive.

Unfortunately, the manner in which the Obama administration rolled out the offshore marine monument was a bit of a blow to the trust that had been developed, but they had participated in good faith. I have good things to say about what our fishing community has tried to do to keep up.

But no matter what you try to do as a fisherman, if you have an abundance of black sea bass—if it is so abundant that it is going into lobster pots to eat the bait and you are pulling up black sea bass in lobster pots, if you are pulling it up in your trawls—and you find that you can’t keep this fish, you could go to the dock and you could sell it for several dollars but, no, you are obliged to throw it overboard because you can’t bring it in. It has already been probably a little bit compromised, particularly if it has been caught in the trawl. So it is not likely to survive very long when you put it back in the water. So you are not really helping anybody by throwing it in. You know it is valuable. You know there are a lot of them. You know you are throwing them back injured or having difficulty surviving or, very often, dead. I have seen them just go twirling down through the water. You wonder, who is looking out for me, because this does not make sense? This does not make sense.

The science supports what they are saying. NOAA has known for a very long time that this black sea bass population was moving northward. This was only 2014. It is even further north from there.

Nothing is more frustrating than not being taken seriously, and I think we need to take the concerns of our fishermen seriously. Of course, one way to do that is to take climate change seriously and not listen to this nonsense about it being a Chinese hoax and not have a bunch of really creepy eccentrics from the climate denial stooge community brought into government and actually given positions as if they were legitimate.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Rhode Island and I look forward to coming back to the floor with him and expanding on this colloquy in the future. I will be a proud partner of his in advocating for the measures, and I join him in praising our fishing community because they have stood strong in the face of adversity.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, let me conclude by thanking Senator BLUMENTHAL for his leadership on this issue. Our fishing communities have a powerful voice in Senator BLUMENTHAL. He has worked with them for many, many years in the Senate and before, when he was attorney general. It is a great honor for me to share the floor of the Senate with him today.

I yield the floor.