Acidification in the Canadian Oceans: What is happening with our shellfish?

by ao1sc on October 7, 2016 - 11:00pm

Carbon emission is one of the biggest contributors to environmental impacts. Not only is it polluting our land and air but also our water, especially the ocean. For the past two centuries, anthropogenic carbon emission has been increasing constantly and studies show that approximately one-third is absorbed by the ocean. When carbon dioxide touches the surface of the ocean it dissolves and forms carbon acids that eventually decrease the pH level in the Ocean which will affect diverse marine livelihoods.

            According to The Globe and Mail journalist, Daisy Xiong (2016), there has been some evidential changes to the fisheries in the West Coast of Canada due to ocean acidification. She stated that many seafood producers and restaurants are increasing their price for shellfish such as oysters, scallops and mussels, because it is affecting their health and their ability to procreate. This statement was supported by one of her interviewer, Colin Brauner, a professor of zoology at University of British Colombia. He explained that there are animals that can attune to the change in their environment; however, many cannot, and shellfish are one of the most delicate marine animals because of its shell. Shells consist calcium and carbonate; thus, as the ocean increases its acidity, it will become more difficult for them to survive. In addition, he clarified that West Coast has higher acidity because deeper water is usually more acidic. Therefore, these two reasons are causing a decrease in shellfish production.

            I believe the purpose of this article is to make awareness of the impact that ocean acidification can have to the environment and also the economy as well. Shellfish has been among the West Coast’s most signature seafood stock and succeeded in the market for many years; however, the fact that shellfish is becoming scarce dwindles the industry’s growth, and influence the local economy. A great example was seen in 2015 when the Canadian health authorities banned raw oyster because there was a spread of bacteria in the ocean and people were experiencing illness. This compelling act brought negative impact to the industry because they could not sell or export their goods. Thus, as we learned in class, this resource management had a conflict of value between the government and the local communities: a conflict between human/environmental health and economic growth.

            As from this past example, we can translate that environmental issues are strongly interconnected with other social issues; and therefore, even solving one problem, such as ocean acidification, is not at all simple. Indeed, government regulation and law legislation can ameliorate an issue in a short-run but there is always an uncertainty for managing resource. Will regulation and law be enough? Are there other alternatives for sustaining both environment and economy equally?  Many questions are still waiting to be discussed and it is our mission to come to a better conclusion.



Xiong, D. (2016, Jan 11). Pacific shellfish set for price hike as ocean acidity keeps rising


This is a very interesting topic, as you not only combined the effects of "Ocean Acidification" on the shellfish species themselves, but also how it is affecting the markets that harvest/ sell them. Through reading your post, it has become clear that because the ocean is such a large carbon sink, that anthropogenic emissions of carbon is actually changing the chemical composition of our oceans (lowering the pH). This is troubling for two reasons, one being the loss of the certain species of shellfish that cannot adapt; and the other being that the environmental impacts of human activity are coming to fruition, and are effecting our economy, as well as our environments. The types of conflict you discussed are some of the main drivers of this problem, along with the fact that there needs to be something done to mitigate this "Ocean Acidification" from progressing at current rates, because that can result in the extinction of certain species of shellfish. The questions posed in this blog are also interesting as you point out the fact that short term Resource Management policy/regulation may not be the only answer, and that there should be other mitigation methods to be explored as well. Overall, this was an educational post, on how anthropogenic forcing has created changes in our ocean systems, that in turn is affecting us more than expected (with the loss of species that we indulge in).

I was intrigued by the title of your article- which I believe is captivating and poses a question which the reader may not have been aware of. Your points on shellfish scarcity and its effects on the local economy are very insightful. The conflict of value between the shellfish industry and human/environmental health is a complex problem which needs to be discussed and addressed in order to find a solution to this environmental issue. How can we preserve our oceans but still encourage economic growth with these resources? Good post overall.

Hi ao1sc, this is a great post – I think this issue often goes underrepresented in talks around the effects of climate change, but as you noted, shellfish are such an important resource for West Coast economies that their loss would be very damaging. It seems that we’re getting close to the critical threshold for shellfish survival in places like the Pacific that are more sensitive to changes in ocean pH.

Since you talked about how legislation can only go so far to improve these conditions (especially considering that the causes of acidification aren’t confined to one place), I looked up some of the approaches that the industry has been taking. I found an article by the California Current Acidification Network ( which spoke about using monitoring systems to adapt the operations of shellfish farms on the West Coast. The program uses real-time data on acidification to act as an “early warning system” before highly acidified seawater arrives near hatcheries, so that managers can plan better for production. However, the program doesn’t do anything to address the causes of acidification, and isn’t used to help wild populations of shellfish.

It would be very interesting to see the differences between commercial and non-commercial approaches to managing ocean acidification in a follow-up to this post – it seems to me that non-commercial approaches would be more focused on wild populations and tackling the root causes of ocean pH changes than those focused only on the economic benefits of hatcheries.

I thought this topic was very interesting because i never really thought about how much a decrease in shellfish could impact the economy. Its interesting to think that the economy would be impacted so highly just from shellfish. This was a really interesting topic to read about. Good job!