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Acid Rain: The End of an Era for Shellfish?

06 February 2009

BOSTON, US - Experts at a symposium on climate change testified yesterday to a number of scenarios that could strike Massachusetts as oceans rise and warm, but one stood out which spells bad news for shellfish.

The ocean is absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, which combines with sea water to form an acid, writes Doug Fraser for Cape Cod Times. With the world pumping carbon into the air faster than at any point in history, scientists warned that the ocean is quickly becoming inhospitable to shell-building animals including lobsters, scallops, clams, corals, and even some types of plankton.

That's bad news, not only for New England diners, but also for the region's billion-dollar fishing industry, the second largest fishery in the country in terms of revenues, reports Cape Cod Times.

Shellfish, including clams, oysters, and scallops, as well as lobsters, make up 80 percent of those revenues. New Bedford, for instance, is the top port in the country in terms of the value of the fish and shellfish they harvest. The bulk of their $268 million catch value comes from sea scallops.

Along with the many fishermen who harvest wild shellfish and lobster, the Cape also has the largest aquaculture industry in the state, which had $5.2 million in sales in 2006 and employed approximately 200 full-time and part-time workers.

"New England is the most vulnerable region in the country for acidification," said Scott Doney, a senior scientist and marine chemist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He said there was uncertainty as to how crustaceans like lobster and shrimp will fare, but that jellyfish, which can tolerate extremes of temperature and acidity, will thrive.

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