American and British Shellfish Farmers Meet to Discuss the Threat of Ocean Acidification to Their Businesses

LONDON, June 29, 2016

Today at the Friend’s House in London, American and British shellfish farmers are meeting to begin developing responses to the growing threat of ocean acidification to their businesses and coastal communities. While Britain and the EU work to address the fallout from the Brexit referendum, an American delegation of farmers from four U.S. states (California, Washington, New York, and Virginia) and the non-governmental organization Ocean Conservancy, is initiating a dialogue on an international crisis of a different nature – environmental threats to the oysters, mussels, clams and crustaceans with their British counterparts, including shellfish farmers, scientists, and civil servants.

Ocean acidification is a change in seawater chemistry that is occurring as a result of carbon emissions being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic. This hinders the population health and growth of oysters, clams, mussels, as well as salmon, crabs and corals.

Representatives from the British shellfish industry will hear from their colleagues from the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic coasts about how ocean acidification nearly devastated the multi-generation Pacific Northwest shellfish farmers in the span of a few years. The U.S. delegation will share the model of science-industry-lawmaker collaboration they have built in the U.S. to help the industry adapt and respond to rapid changes in ocean chemistry.

“Around 2007 and 2008 our oyster hatchery in Washington State lost up to 75% of its larvae. At the time we did not know what was killing them. We now understand that ocean acidification contributed to the losses and now we monitor the pH and water conditions to help us avoid future losses ,” said Bill Dewey, director of public affairs at Taylor Shellfish Farms, the U.S.’ largest shellfish grower. “We are eager to share our experiences with our British colleagues.”

The American shellfish aquaculture industry produced $330 million (£215 million) worth of product in 2013 nationwide, and provides nearly 5,000 direct and indirect jobs to coastal economies. The UK produced about $51 million (£33 million) worth of shellfish, and employed approximately 705 people in 2012. With much at stake, these seafood business owners are now broadening their alliances to combat the global problem of ocean acidification.

The United Kingdom has invested £12 million over the past five years through the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOA). Aiming to reduce uncertainty around the changing ocean, better understand the responses by organisms to acidification, and effectively use data to advise policy makers and resource managers on the risks to these organisms for mitigation and adaptation strategies, the UKOA has begun to draw attention to the potential risks of acidification to fishermen and shellfish growers.

“We’re very curious to hear the steps American shellfish growers took to protect their industry from ocean acidification. This is a global problem, and sharing information and coordinating is a necessary first step to better learn, prepare and respond to this threat. And we will need the help of scientists and our decision-makers to support our efforts,” said Richard Haward, oysterman from Mersea.

“This exchange today was preceded by one we held last year in France, and both show an appetite for coordinated international action to address acidification, and to help businesses around the world, particularly fishermen and shellfish growers, prepare and respond,” said Ryan Ono, Program Manager for Washington, DC-based Ocean Conservancy.