Crab larvae off Oregon and Washington suffering shell damage from ocean acidification, new research shows

Dungeness sustain West Coast commercial seafood harvests typically worth more than $200 million annually, and are a mainstay for tribal and recreational crabbers. (Maddie Meyer / The Seattle Times, 2014)

Dungeness sustain West Coast commercial seafood harvests typically worth more than $200 million annually, and are a mainstay for tribal and recreational crabbers. (Maddie Meyer / The Seattle Times, 2014)

Ocean acidification is damaging the shells of young Dungeness crab in the Northwest, an impact that scientists did not expect until much later this century, according to new research.

A study released this week in the journal Science of the Total Environment is based on a 2016 survey of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia coastal waters that examined larval Dungeness. The findings add to the concerns about the future of the Dungeness as atmospheric carbon dioxide — on the rise due to fossil-fuel combustion — is absorbed by the Pacific Ocean and increases acidification.

“If the crabs are affected already, we really need to make sure we start to pay attention to various components of the food chain before it is too late,” said Nina Bednarsek, the lead author among 13 contributing scientists. The study was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

Dungeness sustain West Coast commercial seafood harvests typically worth more than $200 million annually, and are a mainstay for tribal and recreational crabbers. They have thrived in coastal waters that in recent years have been found to have hot spots of ocean acidification. This is due to periodic strong upwellings of deeper ocean water rich in carbon dioxide and surface waters that also have absorbed gas released by fossil-fuel combustion and other human activity.

“This makes our region very unique,” said Richard Feely, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, who was one of the co-authors of the new study.

Research published in 2014 showed ocean-acidification harm to West Coast pteropods, small free-swimming snails that are food for Dungeness crab. And a laboratory study of Dungeness crab larvae released in May 2016 by the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center showed that increased ocean acidification could also jeopardize the crab.

Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times, 26 January 2020. Article.

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