Ocean acidification concerns Baynes Sound shellfish growers

Comox Valley shellfish growers say they are monitoring their product closely following recent news of high acid levels in the waters around Qualicum Beach that has killed 10 million scallops.

Brian Yip, vice-president of the BC Shellfish Growers' Association and general manager of Fanny Bay Oysters, said at this time the effects in Qualicum do not seem to hitting growers in the Comox Valley.

"We're paying attention …  it's not something new," he explained. "It's in the early stage at this time and it hasn't affected growing, but in one or two years from now, it doesn't rule out the possibility.

CEO Rob Saunders of Qualicum Bay-based Island Scallops said his company was forced to scale operations back considerably and has lost three years worth of scallops due to a dramatic increase in carbon dioxide levels in the water of the Strait of Georgia.

"(The high acidity level means the scallops) can't make their shells and they are less robust and they are susceptible to infection," noted Saunders, who added this level of pH in the water is not something he's seen in his 35 years of shellfish farming.

The pH levels are registering at 7.3, compared to their norm of 8.1 or 8.2.

A pH unit is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution, on a scale of 0 to 14. Solutions less than 7 are acidic and solutions greater than 7 are base, or alkaline.

In the Comox Valley, Yip explained right now, any acidification could affect more of the younger oysters, and the company is paying attention.

"We're doing more research and monitoring the water conditions."

Eric Gant, president of Manatee Holdings Ltd. which specializes in the geoduck industry, explained acidification has always been a concern.

"The basic problem is as a species, we are overwhelming our surrounding ecology, not only causing problems for other species, but for ourselves as well," he said.

He cautioned using acidification as the only factor in the decline of shellfish.

"What we're probably facing in my opinion, is a multitude of stresses, not just one. (Acidification) could just be the tipping point."

Saunders said Island Scallops has had to lay off 10 people at its farm operation in Qualicum Bay and about the same amount of people at its processing plant, totalling about 30 per cent of its workforce.

— With a file from the Parksville-Qualicum Beach News


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