Scallops die-off shows importance of ocean acidification research: Guest opinion

When $10 million worth of scallops suddenly died in late February at Island Scallops in Qualicum Beach, B.C., the company announced it would have to lay off one-third of the workforce–bad news for this job-poor rural community. The die-off also raises worrisome questions about the long-term health of the Georgia Strait waters and Island Scallops farm.

The jury is still out on what killed these millions of scallops, but it is reminiscent of the huge losses suffered by the Northwest’s oyster hatcheries beginning several years ago due to ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification happens when oceans absorb carbon pollution from the atmosphere, exacerbating natural conditions and making the water more acidic. The larvae and juveniles of bivalves such as oysters, clams and mussels are notably susceptible to these conditions. There is no doubt that the oyster larvae die-offs were from ocean acidification. But the fact that we don’t know what’s killing the scallops points to a larger problem: not enough science, not enough data, and not enough information.

Luckily for those of us in Oregon, when it comes to improving our scientific understanding of ocean acidification, our state has led the way. Business-science partnerships are already bringing economic security to coastal communities.

Oregon State University researchers began working onsite at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery years ago, creating an academic-industry partnership model for tackling ocean acidification by tracking the problem and giving hatchery managers the power of prediction and adaptation. Similar partnerships are now underway in California, Washington and Alaska with university scientists installing research-grade equipment at shellfish hatcheries, helping to identify immediate responses for adaptation allowing businesses to survive.

Ocean acidification is not just a Pacific Northwest problem, and it won’t just stop with oysters. It doesn’t just threaten the 3,200 people employed by the $272 million shellfish industry in Oregon and Washington. All the way across the country in Maine is a vibrant lobster industry valued at $466 million and employing 4,900 people. They, too, are begging for more science to help them understand, adapt and survive.

The recent release of President Obama’s 2015 budget brought with it the good news that the administration is seeking a sizable increase in federal funding for ocean acidification research and monitoring to $15 million (last year it was funded at $6 million). This gives us hope, but now Congress must act. We urge the Oregon congressional delegation to support us in our search for more federal funding for ocean acidification research, which has proven vital to understanding the problem and providing capacity for industry to adapt.

It’s time for our congressional representatives to follow Oregon’s lead so our coastal communities can have the information they need to survive and flourish.

Burke Hales & George Waldbusser, The Oregonian, 25 March 2014. Article.

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