Ocean acidification erodes your future, oyster crisis could spread to other fisheries

How will ocean acidification affect commercial fishermen along the Pacific coast of North America? The best clue may be close at hand. Oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest are weathering a severe multi-year reproductive failure that researchers have linked to changing ocean chemistry.

The larval die-offs are a preview of troubles that could threaten many commercial fisheries if the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuels continue to grow unchecked, unintentionally acidifying the world’s oceans.

Production of Northwest oyster seed has already fallen sharply. The hardest hit facility, which supplies oyster farms up and down the west coast, lost 80% of its larvae in 2008 and is now struggling to stay in business.

Wild oysters in Washington’s Willapa Bay — which produces one sixth of the U.S. harvest — also have taken a major reproductive hit since 2005, though some pockets of production remain.

The impacts have been patchy. Some hatcheries and natural oyster beds are suffering partial reproductive declines while others have virtually collapsed. But the multi-year duration of this problem, and its strong link to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, have brought the West Coast oyster industry a dubious distinction: Many consider it the “canary in the coal mine” of ocean acidification — the first major sector of the seafood industry known to get hit from this cause.


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