Washington State

Current Phase: Completed on-location filming, Post-Production and Sweetening Needed

In Washington, we visited oyster and mussel aquaculture companies located along Puget Sound to explore the highly efficient shellfish industries. The shellfish industry as a whole has proven to be one of the great success stories of how careful planning and conservation can lead to sustainable harvesting.  Ocean Acidity (OA) is starting to have an effect on the rearing process of the so-called marine calcifiers to form shells and stony skeletons of calcium carbonate.

Certain aquaculture farms are more affected by OA than others. In the summer of 2015, the Spiral Pacific film crew traveled to Washington State to visit two shellfish farms to see how they were dealing with OA. Our first visit was at Penn Cove Shellfish on Whidbey Island, a region known for legendary mussels. Tim Jones, Operations Manager for Penn Cove, was kind enough to take us on a tour of their mussel farm. This farm is successful for several reasons. 1. Their operation is relatively simple. Strings are suspended within floating cages that are anchored together in large groupings. The process provides a vertical habitat that the naturally occurring mussels in the area simply need to attach to, or "recruit."  2.  Since the mussels are in water that is relatively shallow and receives stream water fed from rains, they have not seen a major difference or fluctuation in their yield due to OA.

Taylor Farms, one of the other major shellfish aquaculture farms in the area has not been so blessedly unaffected. It has been a family business since the 1890's. We were given the opportunity to accompany 5th generation shellfish farmer Diani Taylor to one of her family farms. For their farms to grow oysters, they breed and raise the larva in on-shore hatcheries to a point that juveniles with shells already developed are put onto beaches to fully mature to the point of harvest. Due to the cold water ocean conveyor that is bringing up increasingly acidic seawater, calcium must be added to the once nutrient-rich water in order to foster shell formation, thereby delaying release into the wild. What they are seeing and adjusting for in their labs and nurseries is also happening on a wide scale in the natural environment. The disturbances to the natural environment are being observed but we have no idea of the extent to date, or what the future and more acidic water will have on ecosystem balance. Ultimately, the heavy use of fossil fuels in the last 50 years has had an effect we are only now realizing which cannot be easily solved or mitigated against.

To further our research into this abrupt shift in ocean chemistry, we meet with Meg Chadsey, Ocean Acidification Specialist and NOAA PMEL Liaison for Washington Sea Grant.  Meg helps us to explain and expand upon the far-reaching effects of massive amounts of carbon dioxide being uploaded into the air and how it alters the seawater environment. Acknowledging this threat, in 2012,  the Washington State Governor convened a blue ribbon panel of local stakeholders, state policy makers, (federal, state, tribal) scientific experts and industry representatives. This team is working together to understand and document the impact of OA on Washington State resources.