US shellfish industry at risk as oceans become more acidic
According he first nationwide vulnerability analysis of the $1 billion dollar shelled mollusk industry, 15 states are at economic risk due to the threat of ocean acidification.
The threat in the Pacific Northwest has already been established by previous research. However, according to the the report published in the journal Nature Climate Change areas at risk stretch from Maine and the Chesapeake Bay to Louisiana.
“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” said Julie Ekstrom, in a statement. Ekstrom, who was lead author on the study while with the Natural Resources Defense Council is now at the University of California at Davis.
According to Oregon State University marine ecologist and biogeochemist George Waldbusser said the increased acidification is primarily due to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
“This clearly illustrates the vulnerability of communities dependent on shellfish to ocean acidification. We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification. Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem,” said Waldbusser.
Areas of particular concern, identified as “hot zones” include the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.
Risk factors for the Pacific Northwest include cold waters and upwelling currents. These bring corrosive water closer to the surface. Nutrient pollution from land runoff and corrosive rivers increase the risk.
In New England, poorly buffered rivers rich in carbon dioxide are running into the atlantic from ports in Maine and southern New Hampshire, increasing the already rising acidification.
Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound have high levels of nitrogen pollution, which is exacerbating ocean acidification in the Mid-Atlantic,.
In the Gulf of Mexico, many shellfish economies based almost solely on Oysters which gives the region fewer alternatives as the mollusks are threatened by increasing acidity.
The researchers are also concerned that many regions, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana, have done minimal research on or monitoring of their fisheries and are poorly prepared to respond to changes.
Led by Oregon State University researchers, the Pacific Northwest by contrast have done robust and consistent research and have already helped some oyster hatcheries rebound.
Recently, the university announced a Marine Studies Initiative to address complex, multidisciplinary problems including acidification.
“The power of this project is the collaboration of natural and social scientists focused on a problem that has and will continue to impact industries dependent on the sea,” Waldbusser said.
This report comes hard on the heals of another study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, on the severity of current ocean acidification levels.
That report, which used satellite images to create detailed maps of acidification reminds us that “a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that we emit into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean.” While most people are aware of the dangers of Co2 in the atmosphere, the dangers being created for the worlds oceans and fisheries have been less well publicized.
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