Cameron’s Corner: The Shuffle of Shellfish

Try to imagine in a not-too-distant future what the demise of an entire food-based industry could do to us here along the North Coast?  Particularly that of shellfish, those tasty mollusks that go well as shooters, cioppino, chowders and pasta dishes, which include oysters, clams, mussels and gooseneck barnacles.
You may have heard of such buzzwords from time to time as ocean acidification or marine dead zones.  To some they are phrases used in the occasional National Geographic article, newscast or the next Al Gore inspired documentary on climate change.  But believe you-me, they are very real and are hitting home.
Located just south of our North Coast is the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery, right along the bank of central Tillamook County’s Netarts Bay.  The unassuming facility acts as a growery for a great portion of our region, nation and indeed the world’s supply of fresh marketable oysters that we all have associated as an icon of coastal living.  What they also provide at the hatchery is first hand experience at dealing with the impending problematic issue of ocean acidification.
No, this doesn’t necessarily equate to having your skin melt after going for a dip in the Pacific.  It does however suggest that due to higher levels of atmospheric carbon the ambient pH of the planet’s oceans could be in for a slight shift.  Doesn’t sound so bad right?  Well, critters like shellfish mollusks and crustaceans rely heavily on a sensitive balance of pH in order to extract the necessary amount of calcium carbonate from the sea to construct their shells that protect them from the myriad predators of the deep.  The more carbon being soaked into the oceans from the atmosphere changes that pH and can be a very real threat in offsetting the shellfish ability of calcium extraction, and subsequently shell construction.
The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery offers periodic tours, free to the public, that serves to inform by means of physically showing the effects of a changed pH in an oceanic environment and the results are as impressive as they are concerning.  This is a very real thing that will be affecting us here along the North Coast, and whether you believe climate change is a natural phenomenon or anthropomorphic, as it stands the coastal seafood industry is in for a shock.

Food for thought.