Cantwell in Senate Floor Speech: ‘Ocean Acidification Kills Jobs’

During all-night Senate climate session, Cantwell warns climate change’s impact on jobs is felt ‘today’

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) raised national awareness about the threat ocean acidification poses to Washington state’s jobs and economy during a speech on the Senate floor as part of an all-night action on climate change.                                                                                                                          

Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech here.

Members of the Senate Climate Action Task Force – including Cantwell – spoke throughout the night on the importance of acting on climate change. Cantwell delivered her remarks at 8:15 a.m. Eastern Time (5:15 a.m. Pacific Time) and highlighted how ocean acidification could impact national fishing economy that supports 1 million jobs.                                                           

Excerpts from Cantwell’s remarks follow:

  • “Ocean acidification is an economic issue. It affects so many different people in our economy in the Pacific Northwest. We have generations of shellfish growers that are threatened now by the impacts of carbon in our oceans and the warming of our oceans.”
  • “Commercial fishing is also important to the nation – it contributes $70 billion to the U.S. economy and supports over one million fishing jobs. So our inaction here in Congress deciding not to do something basically threatens those one million jobs.”
  • “Mr. President, ocean acidification kills jobs. Doing nothing about ocean acidification or CO2 in the atmosphere is going to cause us economic problems. So I urge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to support measures that will allow us to mitigate now the impacts of this and plan for the future.”
  • “While we’re here to talk about what might happen in the future, I’m here to talk about what is happening to our economy today and why we need to take action.”
  • “Of the CO2 emissions, 25 percent of them basically just sink into the ocean. So that means that carbon from fossil fuels is being absorbed into the ocean and that basically creates a very corrosive environment in our waters.”
  • “My constituents know these are huge issues. In fact the Seattle Times ran a groundbreaking series called ‘Sea Change’ highlighting the impact of carbon to the oceans. Because it could – as this article details – cause a collapse of that huge Alaska Crab fishing industry. A collapse.”
  • “Scallops -- which just had a week ago a massive die off -- are another canary in the coal mine. This shows that ten million scallops died off the coast of British Columbia.”
  • “We have to not only reduce greenhouse gases now, we have to mitigate the impacts and plan for a more diverse energy source of the future. That’s what we’re talking about today -- we’re talking about trying to save jobs in the United States of America by doing a better job of planning on this issue.”

On February 25, 2014, the Vancouver Sun reported that Island Scallops in British Columbia shut down its processing plant and reduced its workforce by a third due to the death of ten million scallops by Qualicum Beach. Canadian researchers believe that more corrosive water caused the scallop die-off.    

Cantwell has been a leading voice in the Senate about the threat ocean acidification poses to fisheries and coastal economies. On February 27, 2014, during a Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard hearing she called for study to identify which fisheries and fish habitats are most at risk from the effects of ocean acidification – as an expansion of a Puget Sound monitoring system for shellfish that she was instrumental in establishing in 2010.

At the hearing she cited previous research that showed adverse effects on Alaska’s red king crab fisheries. Such research also would be critical to understanding potential impacts to Washington state’s $30 billion maritime industry. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Washington fisheries support 42,000 jobs and have a $1.7 billion economic impact.

In 2010, Cantwell secured funding to deploy ocean acidification sensors near major shellfish hatcheries in Washington state. These sensors, some that are attached to buoys in the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS) network, allow shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real time.  That way, shellfish hatcheries can close off their shellfish rearing tanks when ocean acidity is too high. Recent studies have shown a connection between ocean acidification, caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide, and high mortality rates among young oysters and other shellfish like clams, geoduck and mussels.

In a January subcommittee hearing, Cantwell also highlighted why additional research is needed to understand ocean acidification’s potential damage to critical salmon food sources – including small crustaceans such as copepods. Witnesses raised concerns that copepods, key to healthy salmon populations, could find it harder to reproduce if their waters become more acidic.

Last September, she urged Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA’s then-Acting Administrator, to prioritize ocean acidification monitoring and research crucial to Washington state’s $270 million shellfish industry.