New statewide report urges fast action to address increasing ocean acidification in Massachusetts waters and to protect region’s vital shellfish industry

BOSTON, MASS. (February 9, 2021) – Addressing the growing problem of ocean acidification in New England waters before it severely damages the region’s crucial shellfish industry is the focus of an important report by a commission of Massachusetts legislators, state environmental agencies, marine research and conservation organizations, and shellfish industry leaders. The 84-page report and its recommendations from the 18-member Massachusetts Special Legislative Commission on Ocean Acidification will be released today at a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. EST.

Upwards of 30 percent of excess carbon dioxide, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, has been absorbed by the ocean. The chemical reactions that occur from that increasing carbon and runoff from farms and roadways makes the ocean more acidic. That can affect shellfish such as clams, oysters, scallops, mussels, and lobsters, and their ability to form and maintain healthy protective shells. Rising ocean temperatures also impede shell formation. These growing problems in the coastal area have a direct impact on the seafood industry economy in Massachusetts, which in 2016 alone supported 87,000 jobs and generated $7.7 billion in sales, the vast majority coming from scallops and lobsters.

Massachusetts currently boasts the second highest number of seafood industry-supported jobs in the country after California.  According to the new report, Massachusetts also contains some of the most acidification-vulnerable communities in the country and will be disproportionality affected as the shellfish industry in the US is predicted to lose more than $400 million annually by 2100 as a result of ocean acidification. All of this comes as the aquaculture industry expands with more oyster farms across Southeastern Massachusetts.

“Acidification of our waters puts Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket’s shellfish industry — and the families who make their livelihood in aquaculture — at significant risk,” said the Commission’s Co-Chairman State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). “Thanks to the work of the Special Commission on Ocean Acidification, the Commonwealth now has a roadmap of solutions to mitigate the problem for continued success of this coastal industry. I can’t thank the participants enough for working with us for over a year to deliver a report that is substantive, actionable, and inclusive of so many voices.”

“Addressing the ocean acidification crisis is essential if we hope to sustain our blue economy and protect Massachusetts’ coastal marine environment,” said the other Commission Co-Chair, State Rep. Dylan Fernandes. “The final Ocean Acidification Commission report is the culmination of a yearlong effort by dedicated members, and the recommendations detailed in the document provide a pathway for the state to mitigate our rapidly acidifying coastal waters and protect our valuable shellfishing industry.”

Among the key findings and recommendations in the report include:

  • The impact of ocean acidification can be mitigated by implementing policies that reduce nutrient pollution, restore coastal wetlands, and improve coastal monitoring. Some include planting more marine algae like kelp to help absorb carbon dioxide and reduce acidification and spreading waste shells near oysters beds to help increase carbonate concentrations.
  • The state should invest in research and monitoring systems to quantify the effects of acidification on local shell fishing communities, on the state economy, and on commercially valuable marine species.
  • Massachusetts should establish a “Blue Communities” Program to incentivize communities to start cost-effective green infrastructure projects, and incorporate conservation principles into local ordinances and zoning laws.

“By setting up the commission, the State House and Governor Baker took a proactive step to help Massachusetts prepare for changes in the ocean that will impact our way of life and our economy,’’ said commission member, Dr. Kelly Kryc, Director of Ocean Policy at the New England Aquarium. “As a team of experts, coming from various points of view, we are making some important science-informed recommendations in this report – all with the same goal – to improve and protect our ocean’s health. Now, we need to act.”

Fellow commission member Steve Kirk, Massachusetts Coastal Program Manager for The Nature Conservancy, added: “The threat and urgency of climate change impacts—such as ocean and coastal acidification—for people and our planet cannot be understated. We need to work together swiftly to follow the recommendations in this report in order to protect marine life, our shellfish industries and coastal communities.”

The Commission also includes State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli, State Sen. Anne Gobi, State Sen. Julian Cyr, State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, State Sen. Joan Lovely, State Sen. Patrick O’Connor, State Rep. Sarah Peake, State Rep. Mathew Muratore, and representatives from Cottage City Oysters, the state Office of Coastal Zone Management, the Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the state Department of Marine Fisheries, North and South Rivers Watershed Association, Marine Biological Laboratory, and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Added Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Emiley Lockhart, a commission member, “We are pleased to be part of the Massachusetts effort to utilize the best science available to both understand ocean acidification and mitigate its impacts.”

VIDEO B-ROLL: Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy: https://tnc.box.com/s/06dr0q8w9jgglylwd560orp0y4dmjdg3

 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Pam Bechtold Snyder – psnyder@neaq.org, 617-686-5068