Rapid Ocean Acidification Threatens Billion-Dollar Fishing Industries of 15 Coastal States, Scientists Warn

Mollusk-based industries in at least 15 states face tremendous losses as ocean waters continue to acidify

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Ocean acidification is already estimated to have cost more than $100 million in losses to the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest alone. 

In a new study published in the Nature Climate Change journal, researchers of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) have indicated significant threats to the economies of 15 coastal states —including Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Maryland — that depend on the billion-dollar oyster, scallop, and clam industries.

What’s more, scientists caution, “vulnerable communities are not confined to the Pacific Northwest, which has been the primary focal point of attention and resources. Newly-identified communities at risk reside everywhere from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay to the Louisiana bayou.”

Already, ocean acidification is estimated to have cost the oyster industry of the Pacific Northwest “nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” said Julia Ekstrom, the lead author of the research and a researcher at the University of California at Davis.

Mollusks in particular, like those mentioned above, are particularly sensitive to ocean acidification, caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, because they become unable to develop their calcium carbonate shells. Meanwhile, the industries, which rely on a steady supply of mollusks, are among the most lucrative in the United States.

“Our analysis shows acidification will harm more than ocean creatures; it will have real impacts on people’s lives,” said Lisa Suatoni, senior scientist at the NRDC Oceans Program. “It will pinch pocketbooks, it will put livelihoods at risk, and it will alter the fabric of communities all across the country.”

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