Acidic oceans may threaten fisheries

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the acid level in oceans is increasing.

The culprit could be the same source that many attribute to global warming.

The North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea are home to some of the richest fisheries in the world.

Dr. Richard Feely with the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab said those fisheries could be at risk from carbon dioxide emissions.

“Over the past 200 years or so, we have released about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the oceans have taken up about a third of that,” Feely said.

Feely said once carbon dioxide is taken in by the ocean, it turns to carbonic acid. Studies have measured a 30 percent rise in ocean acidification over the last 200 years.

Feely said the higher acid levels are projected to impact small organisms that rely on a protective shell. Those are species that young salmon and pollock rely on as food sources.

“This change in CO2 concentrations in the ocean has a very deleterious impact on many forms of marine organisms that we’re beginning to see how this works right now. Particularly calcifying organisms, organisms that produce a calcium carbonate shell for protection,” Feely said.

This week Feely briefed the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on the risks rising acids levels in the ocean poses to fish stocks.

Studies show the North Pacific could be among the first regions to see the impacts.

United Fishermen of Alaska President Joe Childers said the acid could be especially problematic for Alaskans.

“The North Pacific may be the most likely place for this to show up first and if it does show up it’s going to be very, very significant impact on fisheries of the North Pacific. It could potentially eliminate a lot of them,” Childers said.

The more difficult question, though, is what to do about it.

Feely said dramatic reductions in carbon emissions will be necessary over the next century to reverse the trend.

Feely said higher acid levels could also impact crab, clam and oyster populations.

Jason Moore,, 3 October 2007. Article.

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