SEATTLE – For shellfish farmers, climate change isn’t a future risk, but a present-day challenge to their industry – and farmers on the West and East coasts are joining forces to fight it.
The new Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition is raising awareness about the effects of carbon pollution on the industry. On the West Coast, the biggest issue is ocean acidification from dissolved carbon dioxide, which makes it difficult for shellfish larvae to grow their shells.
Bill Dewey, the public affairs director for Taylor Shellfish Farms, says acidification decimated their larvae a decade ago. In the aftermath, the company was able to set up a small-scale treatment solution.
“But as conditions get worse, which they’re going to because of what’s already absorbed in the Pacific Ocean, it’s going to start to impact the animals in our nurseries and on our farms, where we don’t have the ability to treat that water,” he explains.
Taylor Shellfish is a founding member of the coalition. The industry employs more than 2,700 people in Washington state, mostly in rural areas, and contributes more than $180 million a year to the economy. The coalition is also calling attention to the effects of storm damage from climate change, and fluctuations in salinity levels on shellfish farming.
The Nature Conservancy is partnering with the shellfish industry to promote action on climate change.
Jodie Toft, acting marine program director of The Nature Conservancy in Washington, says it’s a natural fit because the group recognizes the crucial role shellfish play in cleaning water and providing habitat. She notes shellfish also play a big role in the Washington way of life.
“Shellfish really are an iconic set of species in our neck of the woods here in Washington state,” she says. “We have some of the oldest and most established, and biggest shellfish-growing companies in the nation.”
Lissa Monberg is with Hama Hama Company, the other founding coalition member in the state. She says the company has a mission to connect people to shellfish in order to reinforce the impacts of climate change.
“Get as many of our neighbors as possible out on the beach and having a hands-on experience with shellfish, with this resource, so that the people in the Puget Sound area self-identify as intertidal people or ‘oyster people,’ if you will,” says Monberg. “Because that’s a much stronger place to start from if we have a shared resource.”
Featured Photo: The Hama Hama Company hosted the “Hama Hama OysteRama,” inviting families to the beach to harvest their own oysters. (Photo Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy)
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.