Ocean acidification threatens New Bedford’s revenues

Apparently the word of the day is scallops. New Bedford has once again clinched the top spot among fishing ports, no thanks to declining fish landings. What has kept the Whaling City the highest-revenue port is the high price of scallops.

Just as I finished reading the New Bedford Standard Times article to that effect, this tweet came across my desk: 50% US fishery revenue comes from shell-forming mollusks and crustaceans. What impacts will OA have? (Doney #AFS2011)

Heather Galindo, of COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea), appears to be reporting on comments made by Scott Doney, a senior scientist here at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, at the annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society currently going on in Seattle.

For those not familiar with the shorthand, OA is ocean acidification – the shift in the ocean’s acid-base balance caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere.

One of the most notable effects of ocean acidification is that it makes it difficult for animals like quahogs, scallops, and oysters to extract the calcium carbonate they need to build their shells. As acidity increases, shells get thinner and more defective, growth slows down, and death rates rise. And that’s in the lab, where diseases, pollution, and predators aren’t factors; death rates may be much higher for thin-shelled, chronically stressed shellfish living in the wild.

Scott Doney, along with research associate Sarah Cooley and other colleagues, has been working to answer the very question Doney posed this morning in Seattle: what are the biological and economic impacts of ocean acidification? Cooley and Doney have said that ocean acidification could reduce U.S. shellfish harvests by as much as a quarter over the next fifty years. Earlier this summer, Cooley and Doney published a comprehensive assessment of vulnerability of shellfish harvests worldwide to ocean acidification and identified likely ‘transition decades’ when water chemistry will no longer support current harvests and major declines will begin to be seen. For the U.S., they predict that will happen in less than two decades.

What will that mean for New Bedford? According to the NOAA, sea scallops accounted for 77% of the city’s $306 million in landings in 2010. That’s $235 million dollars. Reduce that by a quarter, and New Bedford loses almost $60 million dollars a year. That’s serious money.

Heather Goldstonen, CLIMATIDE, 8 September 2011. Article.

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