Lawmakers propose new funding to study Oregon’s warming ocean, threats to fishing industry

Ocean acidification sensors in rock pools.
Photo credit: Oregon State University

The Pacific Ocean off Oregon has been ground zero for the impacts of climate change, beginning with a 2007 crisis in the state’s oyster industry.

Since then, acidification and hypoxia events off Oregon’s coast have been increasing, scientists say.

Now, state lawmakers are weighing a bill aimed at understanding and countering those impacts, which have the potential to decimate the state’s crab, shrimp, and shellfish industries.

Senate Bill 260 would allocate $1.9 million from the state general fund toward various projects to monitor and respond to a warming Pacific.

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As much as 30 percent of the human-caused carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. That causes a chemical reaction that makes seawater more acidic, making it harder for organisms to form shells.

As much as 30 percent of the human-caused carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans. That causes a chemical reaction that makes seawater more acidic, making it harder for organisms to form shells.

Some of the highest levels of acidification in the world have been recorded on the West Coast.

Low-oxygen, or hypoxia, conditions also are increasing in the North Pacific, stressing Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, Pacific halibut, salmon and oysters.

“These are five of Oregon’s most important species, and they are all in the crosshairs for this issue,” Caren Braby, Marine Resources Program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a Senate committee.

The funding proposal was written by the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia, a task force created by the Legislature in 2017.

Its members spent a year studying the issue and last fall finished a report and action plan.

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Extreme acidification and hypoxia events have been increasing in Oregon’s estuaries and nearshore waters, home to major fisheries, mariculture operations and nursery grounds for economically important species, the report’s authors wrote.

Most research, however, has been conducted further offshore.

“The result is a precarious information gap for the area that is currently experiencing ocean acidification and hypoxia,” the authors wrote.

The bill includes funding for monitoring projects in Oregon’s estuaries and nearshore waters.

Here’s how the money would be spent:

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would receive $470,000 for estuary mapping and assessments.

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Oregon State University would receive $370,000 for three projects focusing on ocean sampling and monitoring and on shellfish breeding

The Oregon Ocean Science Trust would receive $1.06 million, to award as competitive grants for the following projects:

  • $100,000 for intertidal and $300,000 for subtidal ocean acidification and hypoxia monitoring at Oregon marine reserves.
  • $100,000 for ocean acidification and hypoxia monitoring at Yaquina Bay.
  • $140,000 for ecosystem modeling of submerged aquatic vegetation.
  • $25,000 to develop recommendations for increasing the numbers of wild shellfish, cultured shellfish and submerged aquatic vegetation in Oregon estuaries.
  • $150,000 to develop best management practices for conducting shellfish cultivation in a manner that protects and promotes estuarine health.
  • $180,000 to fund a study on the life cycle impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia on shellfish species important to Oregon.
  • $65,000 to develop a communications plan for outreach.

The Senate environment committee has recommended the bill be passed. It is currently in the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which reviews spending proposals.

The bill doesn’t fund everything called for in the plan. Instead, it’s a “short list of things we should do today,” said Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“Now is the time to get going and start investing in finding the answers and finding out what we can do as a state to ease the impacts of the things we already know are happening,” Roblan said.

Tracy Loew, Statesman Journal, 9 April 2019. Article.

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