Kanae Tokunaga presents “Climate Change and the Blue Acceleration in Maine” on Thursday during the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library. Tokunaga is the senior scientist in coastal and marine economics at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — It’s a topic facing coastal communities all over the country, but it’s of extra significance here in Maine. It’s known as “blue acceleration,” and is described by the Stockholm Resilience Centre as a race among diverse and often competing interests for ocean food, material and space.

Kanae Tokunaga, senior scientist in coastal and marine economics at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, told a Great Falls Forum audience Thursday that the blue acceleration is happening at the same time that climate change is impacting the Gulf of Maine, meaning big changes are converging all at once.

During the discussion at the Lewiston Public Library, Tokunaga focused on the economic factors stemming from the huge growth in the “blue economy,” which includes marine shipping, aquaculture and offshore wind. But she also spoke about how climate change is causing Maine’s historic fisheries and newer industries to adapt.

Tokunaga said that in 2008, aquaculture farms in Maine produced 757,000 pounds of oysters for a production value of about $2.2 million. Now that number is more than 3 million pounds with a value of $8.9 million.

At the same time, the Gulf of Maine is warming three times faster than the global average.

She said the combination has researchers realizing the importance of sustainability across the industries, as well as a greater focus on “climate resilience,” which is the ability to cope, adapt or transform in the face of climate change.


Tokunaga said some research shows that Maine’s $392 million lobster fishery alone could face devastating impacts by 2050. But, her presentation wasn’t all doom and gloom.

She said new research is focusing on how the lobster and other fisheries can adapt, while the booming aquaculture industry has provided new jobs and “a regionally relevant STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) career for Maine youth.” Other industries such as kelp farming, which is a sustainable resource, have also ballooned in Maine.

Lewiston students from McMahon Elementary were part of a recent field trip to an oyster farm where they learned what it means to run an aquaculture business. Tokunaga said they learned about water chemistry and the decisions farmers need to make each day from science to economics.

One question from an audience member centered on whether aquaculture is also being impacted by climate change. Tokunaga said warming waters can have an impact due to harmful algal blooms and that water acidification can specifically harm oysters or shellfish. She said better monitoring and detection “can mitigate some of those risks.”

Tokunaga also discussed the coming influence of offshore wind farms, which won’t likely be in production for another decade, but the planning is moving quickly. She said the fast-moving decisions surrounding the industry are creating “a really stressful time” for some, including commercial fisherman, but that it is also seen as an opportunity toward future sustainability.

According to the Lewiston Public Library, Tokunaga’s disciplinary background is in economics, but most of her current work is interdisciplinary, “collaborating with natural and social scientists, fishery and aquaculture stakeholders, and coastal communities.”

Prior to joining the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in 2019, she received a Ph.D. in economics and Ocean Policy Certificate from the University of Hawaii and worked as a researcher at the University of Tokyo in Japan.

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