It’s your movement


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
April 21, 2010

Earth Day has special significance for the seafood industry, which is inextricably linked to our planet’s signature feature — its vast blue oceans. The industry’s very existence depends on healthy seas.

But there are threats to the oceans, scientists say. One of the biggest is acidification: Rising carbon dioxide emissions have accumulated in the seas and are gradually changing the oceans’ chemistry. Research shows that shellfish — from microscopic pteropods to popular seafoods like clams and oysters — are standing in harm’s way. Increasing acidic conditions could hamper these species’ ability to form protective shells and grow properly, a huge threat to the commercial shellfish industry.

Thankfully, science is getting a grasp on this potentially devastating development; at least we know what we’re up against. What’s more, the people who make their living on the water and depend on healthy natural resources are letting their skepticism erode and are putting the matter, in their own terms, in front of decision makers.

Today on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hear testimony on ocean acidification from some people you might expect to hear from: Actress and environmental activist Sigourney Weaver and Dr. James Barry, senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, are among the scheduled speakers.

As is Donny Waters, a commercial red snapper and king mackerel fisherman in Pensacola, Fla.

“As a fisherman, I can tell you that a lot of us aren’t sure where we stand on climate change, but ocean acidification is real,” reads Waters’ testimony, a copy of which was provided by the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) in Seattle, which is galvanizing an industry response to the issue. “Looking the other way and hoping for the best is not the way I respond to challenges in my livelihood. It’s not the way we should respond as a country, either.”

Also to be added to the hearing record is a letter from fishermen around the country, organized by sustainable-fisheries consultant Amy Grondin of Seattle. It asks Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), et al, to enact several policy changes including increased funding for ocean monitoring, added protection for shellfish hatcheries, support of alternative energy initiatives and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

World leaders who attended last December’s climate summit in Copenhagen, COP-15, did not unify their response to the problem and agree to tough emissions limits, although hints of progress were made, according to Brad Warren, director of SFP’s Productive Oceans Partnership.

Climate change due to human industrial activity, like burning diesel fuel and coal for energy, remains controversial and politically charged, even as a litany of scientific studies shows that the only way to slow its advances is to drastically reduce carbon emissions. “This will require bold steps to place the United States in a position to lead (not lag) in solving this problem globally,” the fishermen’s letter reads.

The seafood industry has much to lose. But it’s putting its cards on the table.

Your move, Washington.

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