State Ecology Staff at Odds With Gov. Inslee on Ocean Acidification Effects

2014-11-11T13:48:56+00:00 November 11, 2014|
A Goose Point Oyster Co. employee harvests fresh oysters at dawn on the Nisbet family's tidelands in Willapa Bay in 2013. (Credit: Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

(Click to enlarge) A Goose Point Oyster Co. employee harvests fresh oysters at dawn on the Nisbet family’s tidelands in Willapa Bay in 2013. (Credit: Steve Ringman / Seattle Times)

Despite Gov. Jay Inslee’s claims, the state Department of Ecology says there simply isn’t enough evidence to prove acid levels in the Pacific Ocean are harming oyster populations.

(From The Daily News Online / by Shari Phiel)–In a New York Times interview in August, Inslee said the state has already seen widespread oyster death due to ocean acidification.

“It used to be the canary in the coal mine,” Inslee said in the interview. “Now it’s the oyster in the half shell. You can’t overstate what this means to Washington.”

Ocean acidification refers to decreasing pH levels in oceans primarily caused by increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, reducing (acidifying) pH levels.

Ecology’s comments came as the result of a recent court case between the Center for Biological Diversity and the Environmental Protection Agency, in which Ecology said there was no conclusive evidence that Washington’s coastal aquatic life are being impaired by ocean acidification. The agency also said there was no evidence that “the cause of the pH change is due to human sources.”

However, the Washington Policy Center reports Ecology Director Maia Bellon said the statements made in court were misinterpreted and that ocean acidification is a very real problem.

“Billions of oyster larvae have died over this past decade at Pacific Northwest hatcheries, and reproduction of wild Pacific oysters at Willapa Bay has declined,” Bellon said.

Ecology’s findings signal the agency likely won’t be proposing legislative changes anytime soon.

Longtime Willapa Bay oyster grower Dick Wilson, a member of the state’s blue ribbon panel studying ocean acidification, said he was surprised by Ecology’s statements.

“As far as I know, it’s been accepted all along the coast that acidification is causing some major problems for oyster setting,” Wilson said. “I don’t know where Ecology is coming from, maybe they don’t want to accept another burden.”

Wilson said research done by the Oregon State University backs up the governor’s claims.

“They’ve come to some pretty solid conclusions that acidic ocean water goes in and dissolves the shells of oyster larvae and they die because they distress themselves trying to build more shell and they can’t do it,” he said. “If Ecology wants to ignore that, that’s their prerogative.”

Referencing the same OSU study, the EPA said the study showed acidification levels were within “the acceptable range of 7.0–8.5 for marine waters” and did not include data regarding the health of wild oysters.

Nahcotta oyster grower Dick Sheldon said he’s disappointed by Ecology’s claims and that the problems created by rising pH levels in the ocean affect more than just oyster farmers.

“We’re looking at crab populations, we’re looking at everything from whales to anything that eats these things that are being effected by the acid,” Sheldon said.

Sheldon said shellfish growers have had to take the lead role in the issue of ocean acidification in Washington because no one else will.

“I would think (Ecology) would be more interested. It’s the main part of the coastal economy and they treat it like its incidental,” he said.