How Climate Change Is Affecting the Oyster Business

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

We’ve expressed our love for oysters in the past, so it’s sobering to read a recent article on NPR’s The Salt blog about how climate change is affecting the oyster business, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Large populations of oyster larvae were dying, and scientists only recently discovered the cause.

According to The Salt, in the mid-2000’s oyster farms in the Pacific Northwest reported that large populations of their oyster larvae were dying. Farmers tried to rid the water of potential bacterial threats from the saltwater piped into their hatcheries from the Pacific Ocean, but that didn’t solve the problem. Finally Richard Feely, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, discovered that the cause of the larvae decimation was ocean acidification, caused by increasing carbon dioxide, which was corroding the baby oysters’ growing shells.

Feely and others found that oceanic currents on the West Coast that bring up water from the sea depths, combined with what he calls “anthropogenic CO2 from the surface,” lowered the Ph levels of the hatchery water and made it too acerbic for the baby oysters to grow properly. What that meant to the oyster farmers was a 60 percent drop in production in 2008 and an 80 percent drop in 2009.

While there are some workarounds (expensive monitoring machinery, or moving the hatcheries to Hawaii), scientists say the problem is only going to get worse. Bill Dewey, an oyster farmer at Taylor Shellfish Farms, says that oyster farmers’ futures will be learning how to adapt and hopefully reducing our carbon emissions and reducing the damage. Or else, “we’re going to have a different ocean. And it probably won’t have much shellfish in it.”