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10 million scallops dead in Canada thanks to overly acidic water

Ocean acidification is killing millions of shellfish in the Pacific Northwest.

By
Brooks Hays
Commercial fishermen and other mariners join together to send an urgent message to save the oceans from ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel emissions in Homer, Alaska, on September 6, 2009. Over a hundred boats and hundreds of members of the fishing community participated in the event. (UPI/ Lou Dematteis/Spectral Q)
Commercial fishermen and other mariners join together to send an urgent message to save the oceans from ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel emissions in Homer, Alaska, on September 6, 2009. Over a hundred boats and hundreds of members of the fishing community participated in the event. (UPI/ Lou Dematteis/Spectral Q) | License Photo

PARKSVILLE, British Columbia, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Island Scallops, a shellfish producer on Vancouver Island, is laying off staff after it lost a majority of its scallop harvest -- 10 million, worth $10 million -- due to high acidity levels in the waters of the Georgia Strait.

"I'm not sure we are going to stay alive and I'm not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive," Saunders told The Parksville Qualicum Beach News. "It's that dramatic."

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Unlike a row of seasonal crops, which live a matter of weeks or months before they're dug up and put on the dinner table, the hatching to harvest process for scallops lasts three years. That's three years of work down the drain, Saunders said.

Saunders claims he hasn't seen PH levels in the water plunge this low in his 35 years of shellfish farming.

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High acidity levels means the scallops "can't make their shells and they are less robust and they are susceptible to infection," explained Saunders.

As Grist writer John Upton points out in a recent post, acidification of the ocean is a product of increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the oceans absorb the greenhouse gas, it reacts with the water to form bicarbonate and carbonic acid.

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This isn't the first time large numbers of shellfish have died off from exposure to acidic water. For nearly a decade now, scientists and shellfish farmers have watched anxiously as shifiting ocean chemistry has decimated mollusk populations, killing oysters as well as scallops.

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“I do not think people understand the seriousness of the problem,” David Stick, an oyster farm hatchery manager, told The Seattle Times last year. “Ocean acidification is going to be a game-changer. It has the potential to be a real catastrophe.”

[Parksville Qualicum Beach News] [Grist] [Seattle Times]

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