Ocean acidification is putting the Pacific Northwest shellfish industry in jeopardy

TAYLOR SHELLFISH | SHELTON, WASHINGTON

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At Taylor Shellfish, we had the opportunity to talk with Bill Dewey, the company’s senior director of public affairs. Bill works with local and regional organizations, as well as the federal government, on issues related to the shellfish industry, which is a huge economic driver in the Pacific Northwest.

Ocean acidification is a real crisis for the shellfish industry and not many people are aware of what it is or even that it’s happening at all. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we’ve been increasing the carbon in the atmosphere through our use of fossil fuels as well as deforestation and tilling of the land. The ocean absorbs roughly a third of the carbon in the atmosphere, and that is changing the ocean’s pH, making it more acidic and leading to a decrease in what are called carbonate ions, a critical component in the formation of shells and other structures that require calcium carbonate, like corals.

Bill told us about how the baby oysters at Taylor Shellfish were all dying and they couldn’t figure out why. The tiny oysters weren’t able to build their shells because of ocean acidification — wild Pacific oysters have not successfully reproduced since 2004. Taylor Shellfish designed a system on their farm to support the baby oysters as they developed their shells. Once their shells are developed enough, the oysters are transferred out to the open water to fully mature, so we’re able to enjoy oysters on the half shell, but that apparent abundance masks the reality that is facing the shellfish industry and, critically, the wild populations of shellfish, corals, plankton, urchins and other sea creatures that rely on calcium carbonate to survive.

Catherine Neville