My Turn: Carbon emissions have us fishing on thin ice
I have ice fished for more than 30 years. Growing up on the Seacoast, most winter weekends were spent ice fishing for smelt on Great Bay with my father.
The months leading up to the start of smelt fishing season were filled with anticipation and excitement about what the coming winter would bring. We wondered if there would be more or fewer shacks this year or if the smelt fishing would be as good as last year. One thing we never wondered was whether there would be safe ice to fish on.
I’ll admit that safe ice can’t form soon enough for me. If I had my way, the lakes would stay frozen all year (well, at least a few of them), but I never imagined that I would wonder whether I would be able to ice fish each season.
I can remember seeing trucks on the ice of Great Bay when I was a kid, and no one thought twice about it. Now, no one would dream of driving a vehicle on the ice of Great Bay because it never gets thick enough anymore. Every winter the ice that forms on Great Bay is thinner, making the smelt fishing season shorter.
The winter of 2012 was the worst I can remember.
There was safe ice to fish on for about two weeks, and then it was gone and never returned. It didn’t seem to matter though, because there were so few smelt to catch. Warmer water temperatures are also contributing to the loss of valuable smelt habitat.
As a young adult, I gravitated to freshwater ice fishing. At the time, I thought I was just drawn to the diversity of species that could be caught through the ice. While that is true, I later realized that it was the dependability of safe ice that drew me to the freshwater lakes and ponds each winter.
I now wonder how long I will have safe freshwater ice to fish on. There are winters now where lakes such as Winnipesaukee don’t completely freeze over, and if they do it is only briefly. I make my living as an ice fishing guide during the winter months, and each season gets shorter and less consistent. I know weather isn’t something we can control, but it has become more extreme and unpredictable than ever.
I didn’t grow up hearing terms such as El Nino, La Nina or polar vortex, but now they are commonplace terms because of new and changing weather patterns.
Another change I have witnessed over the past decade due to warm water is the timing and duration of certain fishes’ spawning. It is the lake being free of ice, the mount of daylight hours and water temperature that trigger white perch and other species to spawn.
White perch usually spawn over a two-week period, but now the water warms so fast that in some areas of the lake they spawn in one day. Warmer water also affects cold water species such as lake trout and landlocked salmon.
All fish species, warm water and cold water, have a preferred water temperature, and the rising water temperatures are forcing them out of their natural habitats because of depleted oxygen, algae blooms and other side effects of warming trends.
Carbon emissions are affecting our overall quality of life by posing serious health risks, but the emissions also have a negative impact on the success and quality of life of our fish and wildlife, which in turn leads to negative economic impacts.
If we do not act, the problem will only worsen. Carbon emissions are a major part of the problem and power plants are a contributor. I support the EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions through the Clean Power Plan.
(Timothy Moore lives in Portsmouth.)