Op-Ed: Strong carbon policy is critical for Washington’s seafood and legacy


Joth Davis

Published on
September 21, 2017

Joth Davis is a marine biologist, lead scientist for the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, and owns and operates Baywater Shellfish Farms with his wife and son, farming clams, oysters, and geoducks in Hood Canal.

As a shellfish farmer in Hood Canal and lead scientist for the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, I’ve seen firsthand recent and debilitating consequences carbon pollution has had on shellfish produced in the Pacific Northwest. Changes in seawater chemistry associated with both human-derived nitrification and dissolved CO2 from upwelled seawater initiated an oyster seed crisis the industry is still struggling to come back from. Ocean acidification and other biological issues suspected to be associated with changes in seawater chemistry continue to dog the industry and the capacity to reliably produce oyster seed. Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, cement manufacture, and land use changes have created what is possibly the largest waste stream in human history. The oceans absorb about 26 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions and this has already resulted in a 30 percent increase in the ocean’s overall acidity, impacting the physiology of many important marine organisms in fundamental ways. If we don’t address the problem directly, we’ll pay a high cost: not only to our historical love for and reliance on seafood, but to the health of our people and our economy. While the work that I currently do (researching how growing seaweeds can potentially help shellfish adapt to and mitigate the effects of seawater chemistry changes) is important, we must tackle the root cause: which begins with strong carbon policy, ideally on a national and international level. 

Many people I speak to are overwhelmed by the coming problems associated with climate change – change driven largely by carbon pollution. They believe that we must drastically change our way of life and enact draconian laws in order to find solutions. But that’s simply not the case. Around 40 national and 25 subnational jurisdictions now place a price on carbon emissions, and a comprehensive review of the data from policies already in place shows that effective, fair, carbon policy doesn’t hurt jobs or economies: in fact, it grows them. Just check out the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) covering nine states on the East Coast. 

How is successful carbon policy created?  Actually, the answer is relatively simple. Government entities simply put a price on carbon emissions and use the revenue generated to directly invest in carbon-cutting solutions, like providing energy efficiency grants for businesses large and small, home weatherization programs, and developing carbon-sequestering forest and water projects. The payback from the tax collected is essential for achieving the kind of deep-cutting emissions reductions our state climate goals require. We recently tried to enact a carbon tax in Washington: Initiative 732, on the 2016 ballot. It failed, however, because the policy would have given away the revenue gained in corporate tax breaks. Happily, in 2018, it looks like Washington will again have the chance to vote for a stronger, smarter carbon policy. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is leading the fight, with support from The Nature Conservancy and many other organizations.

The Pacific Northwest is experiencing the effects of carbon pollution on our natural resources, our climate, and our health. Living here, we cannot help but be reminded that our roots lie deep in a heritage of an abundance of salmon, shellfish, and clean water. Commercial and sport fisheries and aquaculture are responsible for ,more than USD 2.5 billion (EUR 2.1 billion) in economic activity and tens of thousands of jobs. Washington’s treaty tribes rely on harvesting seafood for subsistence, for health, and for traditional ceremonies.  All of this, and more, is at risk from the harmful effects of carbon pollution. 

States are the leaders in this fight – we won’t be seeing a national policy in the near future, and Washington is poised to lead the way in an equitable transition to a low carbon economy. Washington residents have a responsibility to understand what makes carbon policy effective and speak with their voices and their votes to enact strong legislation to reduce the harmful stream of CO2 pollution. The generations that follow us deserve to inherit the productive oceans and rivers, mountains and valleys, which Washingtonians have enjoyed for centuries. Seafood producers are among the groups that have a right to benefit from the revenue produced from a carbon tax – for example, with grants for more energy-efficient engines, refrigeration systems, or other emissions-reducing technology. But it’s up to the industry to make that happen – if you don’t speak up, your interests are unlikely to be specifically represented. The Working Group on Seafood and Energy is an association of those whose livelihoods depend on healthy oceans, and who are working now on industry-specific recommendations for carbon policy designers in both Washington and Oregon. To participate in that discussion, email [email protected] 

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