Ocean acidification is a serious threat to the U.S. oyster industry and the U.S. shellfish industry in general, said panelists on Tuesday during the Chefs Collaborative National Summit at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston.
Ocean acidification is the concept that seawater is increasingly acidic, the result of rising carbon dioxide emissions accumulating in the oceans. The acidity depletes seawater of the compounds that organisms require to form protective shells and skeletons, preventing mollusks such as oysters, clams and mussels to grow properly.
During the seminar “Eating Oysters, Tasting Place,” panelists validated the severity of ocean acidification.
“It’s a big problem on the West Coast,” said Jon Rowley, a consultant for Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash. “At its Quilcene [Wash.] hatchery in the last two years, [Taylor] has lost about two-thirds of its hatchery production — the larvae won’t make a shell. This year, [Taylor] got it under control. But it’s still a big problem.”
“If [ocean acidification] continues to get worse,” he added, “it will likely impact the whole food chain.”
“It’s definitely a concern,” said Skip Bennett, founder and owner of Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Mass. “The general thought was that the oceans would be the great consumer of carbon, and we wouldn’t see the effects of it. But it’s a problem that we’re seeing in the hatcheries now. It’s a lot worse that anybody [expected].”
A study conducted by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution last year found that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased by nearly 40 percent in the last two centuries, with oceans absorbing about one-third of all human-generated carbon emissions. The study suggested that U.S. mollusk harvests would drop 10 to 25 percent in 50 years due to increasing ocean acidification, decreasing mollusk sales by USD 75 million to USD 187 million annually.