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Acidic ocean imperils jobs: Carbon fuel fouls the seafood chain

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Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010 4:27 am | Updated: 1:40 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

Community Perspective

Commercial fishermen and their charter boat counterparts frequently find themselves on opposing sides of the table on a range of issues related to access and management of Alaska’s valuable fisheries resources. As representatives of charter and commercial fishing organizations, we can attest that quarrels between our user groups are older than statehood. Indeed, we often express opposing views in public forums. 

But on one issue we are in complete agreement: ocean acidification poses an imminent threat to our fisheries and our livelihoods. Here’s why.

Studies show organisms that produce calcium carbonate skeletons and shells, such as shellfish, mollusks and the plants that cement coral reefs, as well as microscopic plankton at the base of the ocean food chain, will face increasing difficulty making shell material as the oceans turn more acidic. If it gets bad enough, shells could literally dissolve.

According to Jeremy Mathis, an ocean scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and an expert on ocean acidification, one of the first casualties of ocean acidification will likely be the pteropod, a planktonic snail that makes up more than half the food supply for Alaska pink salmon, whose adult harvest weights will plummet if the pteropod population declines. Food-chain disruptions will affect all kinds of salmon, crab, mollusks and the other species including halibut — our bread and butter — which all contribute to Alaska’s vital fisheries economy.

No matter the methods by which we harvest, as fishermen we recognize that Alaska’s economy cannot withstand wholesale drops in the health and abundance of fish. Tens of thousands of good jobs directly or indirectly tied to the fisheries industry are at stake.

More research into ocean acidification is needed, but existing data makes it abundantly clear we know enough about the threat and its potential for real economic harm for us to take action to curb its cause. That’s why we need effective legislation leading to a new energy policy for the nation, one that increases our national energy security, curbs the emissions that cause ocean acidification, and puts a price on carbon that will provide capital for investment in renewable energy resources, including those here in Alaska. The local benefits of this course of action are exponential and long-lasting.

Alaskans have a long history of meeting serious fisheries challenges head-on and overcoming them. Now, we face one that we can’t fix without help. A solution will require the cooperation of and collaboration between our two senators.

There have been several attempts at legislation in Congress this year addressing these issues. None have gone very far. It is our sincere wish that necessary measures receive fair hearings, vigorous debate and a vote.

We urge our congressional delegation to work together to find a forward-thinking solution to the critically important issues of climate change and ocean acidification before their effects rob us of our lifestyles, our jobs and the legacy we hope to leave our children.

 Tim Evers of Ninilchik is the owner of Fishward Bound Adventures, a charter boat operation. Jeff Farvour of Sitka has been a commercial fisherman for almost 20 years. Both are members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Panel.

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