Study Says Oysters Threatened by Climate Change

 
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February 23, 2015
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By Jaclyn Kelley | Eye Witness News, WWL TV

Climate change is a global problem with potentially devastating impacts on Louisiana's local seafood industry, especially oyster production, according to experts.

New research published today in the journal, "Nature Climate Change," says that climate change is causing our oceans to become more acidic, endangering Louisiana's shellfish.

For businesses like Drago's Seafood Restaurant, who rely on a thriving seafood industry, it is a concern.

"We make a living selling oysters," says Drago's owner Tommy Cvitanovich. "So, of course, I want there to be oysters for my kids and grandkids to sell in the future."

Scientists say our oceans absorb 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which makes the ocean more acidic and depletes it of oxygen. That in turn makes it difficult for shellfish, like oysters and clams, to grow, but Gulf Coast fisheries say it's not an issue yet.

"The study points out that we are vulnerable to such a thing, and I can't disagree with that. We are highly dependent on the oyster stocks," said Chris Nelson, who owns and operates Bon Secour Fisheries.

In fact, Nelson said the industry has bigger fish to fry. Right now, production of public oyster reefs in the Gulf Coast are at an all-time low.

"We've got over 2 million acres of public oyster reefs, and they all need our help right now," says Nelson. "We are more impacted by salinity changes due to channelization of our estuaries."

With ocean acidification a distant problem, industry leaders remain optimistic they will get ahead of the issue.

"At the end of the day, we realize there is a problem and we fix it," says Cvitanovich. "It happened with automobiles and exhaust. Gasoline has gotten better, so it is going to happen here too if this ends up being a true problem."

According to the study, ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific northwest nearly $110 million and has forced producers to turn to hatcheries to combat the problem.

It's a solution Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states hope to start using in the near future as well.