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Ocean Changes Affecting ME Shellfish Industry?

November 14, 2011

PORTLAND, Maine - Those who harvest clams in Maine have a lot in common with those who raise oysters on the West Coast. Local fishermen on both sides of the continent are increasingly seeing what is being called "dead mud," which is an area that can no longer support clams because it's too acidic. On the West Coast it's being blamed for a major increase in the death toll of seed oysters.

Bill Dewey, policy and communications director for Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington state, says the first sign of trouble was back in 2005 when natural oyster beds started failing. Since then, he says, the problem has progressed to hatcheries all along the West Coast.

"In 2008 our oyster larvae production was off 60 percent, in 2009 it was off 80 percent. The industry had a seed crisis on their hands."

The shellfish industry is a $60 million economic shot in the arm for Maine. Dewey says carbon dioxide pollution from burning of fossil fuels is making local waters more acidic, and that acid is making it impossible for shellfish to survive.

Dewey says the carbon dioxide being pumped into the air every day worldwide is killing shellfish and business.

"We've got this upwelling phenomenon off our coast that brings the deep ocean waters to the surface. Waters that have been absorbing CO2 for decades are corrosive, and because of that they are dissolving our baby oysters, causing us problems."

The Maine Department of Marine Resources says it is short on staff and hasn't been able to map areas where the acid appears to be hurting clam production. There are only two staffers to cover more than 150,000 acres of clam beds.

More is on the web at www.sightline.org

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - ME