Cantwell on Earth Day: Senate Moves to Protect WA Shellfish Jobs from Deadly Acidification Threat

After Cantwell-led letter, key Senate committee moves to reverse cuts to ocean acidification monitoring programs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced a step forward in the effort to protect Washington state shellfish growers from the impacts of ocean acidification. Cantwell made the announcement during a tour of Taylor Shellfish’s store in Capitol Hill.

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to increase – rather than cut – support for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS), which operates ocean acidification monitoring buoys and sensors in Washington state. This vote followed a March 23rd letter Cantwell led urging Senate appropriators to restore support for the monitoring sensors and research that were under threat for elimination in the proposed FY2013 budget. The next step for the appropriations bill is a vote on the Senate floor.

“Ocean acidification is a major threat to Washington state’s coastal economy and thousands of jobs,” said Cantwell. “We know these sensors are working and helping shellfish farmers protect their shellfish from ocean acidification. This Earth Day, we must continue to fight to protect this crucial tool for Washington shellfish jobs.”

Recent studies have shown a connection between ocean acidification and high mortality rates among young oysters and other shellfish.  In part, the NOAA IOOS program allows shellfish growers to monitor ocean acidity in real time, using data from acidification sensors and buoys. With the information from these buoys and sensors, shellfish farmers are able to avoid filling tanks with seawater when acidity is too high.

“Ocean acidification is a major threat to shellfish in Washington state and shellfish farms up and down the west coast,” said David Steele, President of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association. “This industry supports over 3,000 Washington jobs and contributes approximately $270 million per year in economic activity to rural coastal communities, so we can't just sit back and let acidification devastate the industry. By keeping these sensors in the water, we can learn more about the changing water chemistry and develop ways to adapt.”

In 2010, Cantwell secured the support to deploy these sensors near major shellfish hatcheries in Washington. After the sensors were deployed young oyster productivity rose from 20 percent to 70 percent of historical levels.

According to a recent study in Science, the current rate of ocean acidification is higher than any time in the last 300 million years, presenting a critical threat to Washington state’s shellfish industry. In Washington state, the shellfish industry employs 3,200 people and contributes $270 million to the state’s economy each year. Washington state is a national leader, growing about 88 percent of the West Coast’s $110 million annual harvest.

In a report last week, researchers “definitively linked the collapse of oyster seed production at a commercial oyster hatchery in Oregon to an increase in ocean acidification.”