Survey finds West Coast shellfish growers are very concerned about ocean acidification

Some of the best oysters in the world come from Apalachicola Bay.
Commercial oyster growers on the West Coast are already feeling the impacts of ocean acidification.

Industry seeks ways to mitigate impacts

Staff Report

The issue of ocean acidification may not have a reached a critical mass in general public awareness yet, but more than 80 percent of people working in the shellfish industry along the U.S. West Coast are convinced that it’s a growing problem.

About half the people in the industry report that they’ve already experienced some impact from ocean acidification, according to a survey and study led by researchers at Oregon State University.

Ocean acidification occurs as the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas pollution. The changes in ocean chemistry are making it harder for some ocean species to form shells.

“The shellfish industry recognizes the consequences of ocean acidification for people today, people in this lifetime, and for future generations – to a far greater extent than the U.S. public,” said Rebecca Mabardy, a former OSU graduate student and lead author on the study. “The good news is that more than half of the respondents expressed optimism – at least, guarded optimism – for the industry’s ability to adapt to acidification.”

Some shellfish growers have seen how increased acidity affects survival of juvenile oysters, said George Waldbusser, an OSU marine ecologist who has worked with Northwest oyster growers on mitigating the impacts.

 

“Tthose who have experienced a direct impact obviously have a higher degree of concern about the issue,” Waldbusser said. “Others are anticipating the effects of acidification and want to know just what will happen, and how long the impacts may last.”

“Because of some of the success we’ve had in helping some hatcheries adapt to changing conditions, there is a degree of optimism that the industry can adapt,” added Waldbusser.

Some of the researchers involved in the survey have already worked with hatcheries to monitor and treat seawater. Waldbusser’s research has shown there is a fine line in how quickly larval oysters must develop their shell at a stage when they are most vulnerable to the corrosiveness of acidified water.

Shellfish industry leaders were asked who should take the lead in responding to the challenges of acidification and their strong preference was the shellfish industry itself, followed by academic researchers. A majority said that any governmental regulations should be led by federal agencies, followed by the state and then local government.

“As a whole, the industry felt that they should be working closely with the academic community on acidification issues,” Waldbusser said. “In the spirit of full disclosure, there were some people who reported a distrust of academics – though without any specifics – so we clearly have some work to do to establish credibility with that subset of the industry.”

Among the other findings:

  • Of those respondents who said they have been affected by ocean acidification, 97 percent reported financial damage, while 68 percent cited emotional stress.
  • The level of concern reported by industry was: 36 percent, extremely concerned; 39 percent, very concerned; 20 percent, somewhat concerned; 4 percent, not too concerned; and 1 percent, not at all concerned.
  • Most respondents felt that ocean acidification was happening globally (85 percent), along the U.S. West Coast (86 percent), and in their local estuary (84 percent).

“One thing that came out of this survey is that we learned that not only is the shellfish industry experiencing and acknowledging ocean acidification,” Mabardy said, “they are committed to learning about the issue and its implications for their business. They want to share their insights as they are forced into action.”

“The next step is to continue shifting conversations about ocean acidification from acknowledgement of the problem, toward solution-oriented strategies,” she added.

Since graduating from OSU, Mabardy has worked at Taylor Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Washington and is now beginning a position as the outreach and project coordinator for the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

Results of the study have being published in the Journal of Shellfish Research. It was funded by Oregon Sea Grant.

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