Changing climate impacting WA shellfish industry



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Posted on May 6, 2014 at 5:38 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 6 at 8:24 PM

Little Skookum Inlet near Shelton is shellfish country. Oysters and clams have always thrived there, but that's changing, the water is richer in acid, and the wildlife is doing things people out there have never seen.

Bruce Brenner, President of J.J. Brenner Oyster Co., has seen it all - or at least he thought he had - until the birds came, and kept coming and coming and coming.

“When I was a kid we'd have maybe a hundred birds out here, now we have thousands, one time I had almost ten thousand ducks,” he said.

The duck infestation is almost over for the year, but they left behind the holes they dug to feast on Brenner's clams and oysters. He's convinced a changing climate is changing the size and timing of ducks' migration.

"It's an increasing problem that started back in 2011 and it's gotten worse every year so we have to put these nets out,” he said.

Covering the shellfish beds with nets can help slow down the bird buffet but another climate change invader is complicating the net plan.

"We're getting more and more jellyfish coming in that just bind up these nets,” he said.

The rise in jellyfish numbers are blamed on ocean acidification, ¦a climate change bi-product that threatens the health of shellfish.

Brenner says his product is showing the damage.

"Some of the oyster shells are a lot thinner than they used to be. The actual oysters are getting softer than they used to be,” he said.

The shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest is feeling the effects of this, all the way from Alaska to southern Oregon. Some are going out of business, others are cutting back on jobs.