Shellfish farming in Washington is a multimillion-dollar industry with a history as deep as Puget Sound. However, recent decades of warming oceans and higher levels of ocean acidification continue to challenge shellfish farming practices.

In and around Whatcom County there are several aquaculture farms, such as Lummi Shellfish Hatchery, Drayton HarborOyster Co., Blau Oyster and Taylor Shellfish in Samish Bay. Each farm varies in size, number of employees and type of shellfish produced, but they share one thing in common: the water quality of Puget Sound.

There are more than 300 aquaculture farms across Washington, according to the Pacific Shellfish Institute. A WashingtonState Maritime Sector Economic Impact Study in 2017 found that the industry directly supports 15,900 jobs. Samish Bay shellfish farms alone include $2 million annual payroll and $6 million in wholesale oysters, clams and geoduck.

In June, four ocean acidification bills made bipartisan progress, in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, to becoming law. The bills are designed to encourage research and spur new ideas for adapting to the affects of ocean acidification. The bills include the COAST Research Act of 2019, the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019,the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2019 and the NEAR Act of 2019.

As carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere a certain percentage is absorbed into the water, causing a chemical reaction that makes the water more acidic. According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, roughly 25%of carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed into the worlds oceans. The process is similar to bubbles escaping from a soda can, but in reverse. Since the industrial revolution ocean acidification has increased by 30% and reduced carbonate ions by16%, said Bill Dewey, director of public affairs for Taylor Shellfish. By the end of the century it is predicted that ocean acidification will increase by 100% to 150% and reduce carbonate ions by 50%, said Dewey.  Read the article.

Editor’s note:  Land-based shellfish farming may become necessary in some areas.

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