B.C. shellfish farmers fear polluted sea water could ruin oyster and scallop beds

The harvest of oysters and scallops farmed in B.C. waters this year could be in danger from polluted waters in Pacific Ocean hatcheries, a shellfish farmer says.

Ocean acidification caused by increasing carbon dioxide was blamed for the shutdown of the Washington oyster fishery last year and B.C. could be next, partially for the same reason, said Rob Saunders, owner of Island Scallops at Qualicum Beach.

Island Scallops, which provides seed oysters and scallops for farmers, lost 90 per cent of its oyster larvae last year, he said.

Acidic water affects the oysters’ ability to grow a hard shell.

It takes two years for oysters to mature for harvest, and Saunders said oysters may be in short supply this year.

Hatcheries have been boosting water’s pH levels and are working with federal officials to spawn “superior animals” able to grow in less than ideal conditions, he said.

Farmers also resorted to importing seed from Chile and that will make up the shortfall, said Roberta Stevenson, executive director of the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association.

“We’ve seen scallop farms suffer through this and lose their product (in past years),” Stevenson said.

Aquaculture statistics from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) showed more than 8,000 tonnes of oysters harvested in B.C. in 2014, up 45 per cent from 2013. The last time total production topped 8,000 tonnes was in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Over the past 30 years, production ranged between 2,900 tonnes (in 1986) to 7,500 (in 2010), with amounts generally steadily growing over the years.

Scallops hovered generally below 100 tonnes, except for an unusually prolific year in 2010 of 695 tonnes and between 200 and 400 tonnes in the years before and after that spike. In 2014, B.C. produced 100 tonnes of scallops.

DFO chemical oceanographer Sophia Johannessen said Canada just recently started monitoring acidic levels in the Strait of Georgia, and it’s not clear how widespread or grave the problem is.

“Ocean acidification is a fairly new issue and people have started to begin to understand what a big deal it will be,” Johannessen said.

“We don’t have the evidence yet that it’s affecting the (B.C.) fisheries, but it has been affecting fish in other parts of the world, which is why the scallop farmers are concerned.”

Other factors that affect fisheries include warmer and more saline sea water, changing snowpacks and fluctuating amounts tiny plants and animals that feed larger sea life, she said.

Susan Lazaruk, The Province, 6 January 2016. Article.

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