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Mass Shellfish Die-Offs in Canada: Is Ocean Acidification to Blame?

Posted On March 4, 2014 by

Photo: Barbara Kinney, Ocean Conservancy

News broke last week that a company called Island Scallops in British Columbia, Canada, had lost three years’ worth of business – 10 million scallops and $10 million. The CEO, Rob Saunders, identified ocean acidification as the culprit.

Now, there is rightly some attention to being paid to the mass shellfish die-offs in Canada. An oyster farm in the region has also come forward with tales of oyster deaths. The owner of the oyster farm was quoted in Canada’s Globe and Mail as saying, “It’s hard to say [what is causing these deaths] without having somebody there monitoring what’s going on.”

Scientists and policy experts agree that acidification and its impacts on coastal seafood, can be hard to untangle. Coastal areas are dynamic areas; things are constantly changing.

As Ocean Conservancy’s ocean acidification scientist, Dr. Sarah Cooley says, “We know coastal zones are complicated and disturbed places where natural systems and human damage intertwine.”

Many scientists want to better understand what is happening at Saunders’ operation. The good news for Saunders is that there are people just to the south of his operation in Washington and Oregon who have lived through similar experiences; there are policy experts that have identified ways in which the two states can respond to a changing ocean in ways that protects and enhances their coastal businesses, and above all, there are people that are passionate about this issue that want to help and better understand it.

It is heartbreaking for Saunders and his employees, to face an uncertain future. This is why Ocean Conservancy is renewing its call to double federal funding for ocean acidification research and monitoring – Rob’s story won’t be the first, nor will it be the last. We know that other businesses and livelihoods will feel ocean acidification’s impacts. But the good news is that with a smart investment now – $15 million dollars – the returns are huge. Monitoring already helped bring a $272 million oyster industry back from the brink. Members of Congress have an opportunity this spring to choose our long-term coastal communities’ health as they decide on their budget numbers for the coming fiscal year.  As Saunders said, “If we don’t figure it out, then we don’t have an industry.”