OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said last week she has asked Bill Ruckelshaus and Jay Manning to lead a blue ribbon panel of science and policy experts to focus on the emerging problem of ocean acidification that threatens shellfish in the Pacific Northwest.

    Washington’s shellfish growers are seeing an increase in the deaths of juvenile shellfish larvae, which has been linked to acidic marine waters. When saltwater becomes acidic, it harms the shell-making ability of oysters, clams, scallops and mussels. It also harms other marine organisms.

    Ocean acidification occurs as oceans accumulate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, from polluted land runoff and other sources.

    The panel is the first of its kind in the nation, and will convene for its first meeting  in Seattle.

    “Washington state has a large stake in addressing ocean acidification,” Gregoire said. “Our shellfish industry employs thousands of people, and brings in millions of dollars to our state on an annual basis. Continued success depends on healthy ocean water. Bill Ruckelshaus, Jay Manning and the other panel members will help find ways to respond to ocean acidification to protect both our economy and our natural resources, and I thank them for their willingness to lead this critical effort.”

Members of the panel from our general area include:

    • Lisa Ayers, Pacific County commissioner

    • Brian Blake, state representative

    • Bill Dewey, Taylor Shellfish Co.

    • Jennifer Ruesink, UW – Department of Biology

    Washington shellfish growers directly and indirectly employ more than 3,200 people and provide an estimated total economic contribution of $270 million per year. In addition, tourists and residents purchase more than 300,000 licenses to harvest clams and oysters from Washington waters, providing more than $3.3 million every year in state revenue.

    Ruckelshaus of Madrona Venture Group twice led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and he formerly chaired the Washington Salmon Recovery Board and the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council. Manning of Cascadia Law Group is the governor’s former chief of staff and former director of the Department of Ecology.

    Ruckelshaus said, “Washington state is among the first states to take a hard look at this problem. We’re not saying we’ll fix it – Washington alone may not be able to. We’re going to be looking at current science and then coming up with recommendations to address this problem. Partnerships and recommendations for additional science and policy implementation will be among our outcomes.”

    Manning said, “A decline in shellfish and our marine food web will have serious economic consequences to our state. We have science right now that links acidified waters with the reduced survival of oyster and shellfish larva. The Northwest’s shellfish industry is seeing this trend, so we want to understand what’s happening so we can protect these very important resources.”

     Steven Bloomfield, Mason County commissioner and shellfish grower, said: “For eight years now, Washington shellfish growers have witnessed failures of both native and Pacific oysters to naturally set their shells. This panel gives hope for finding cause and effect as well as potential solutions.”

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a supporter of this effort. “We are seeing firsthand the impacts that ocean acidification is having on our shellfish growers and native shellfish habitat,” said John Stein, Director of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.  “The economic, social, and environmental costs threaten the way of life for many in our coastal communities and there is much we don’t know about existing and future impacts of acidification.  We commend Washington for this proactive step in convening this panel and examining the current science, and are pleased to participate in the panel.”

    Last December, the Governor committed to convening the blue ribbon panel as part of the Washington Shellfish Initiative. The initiative is an agreement among federal and state governments, tribes, and the shellfish industry to restore and expand Washington’s shellfish resources, promote clean-water commerce, and create family-wage jobs

    The panel includes scientific experts, public opinion leaders, state, federal, tribal, and local policy makers, and industry representatives. The blue ribbon panel will:

    • Review and summarize the current state of scientific knowledge of ocean acidification pertinent to Washington state, including anticipated consequences on shellfish and other marine species;

    • Identify priority research and monitoring needed in Washington to increase our scientific understanding and strengthen the linkage between science and management actions;

    • Develop recommendations for actions to respond to increasing ocean acidification and reduce the harmful effects on Washington’s shellfish industry and other marine resources; and

    • Identify opportunities to improve coordination, strengthen existing partnerships, and develop new partnerships across jurisdictional boundaries with governments, universities, non-profit organizations, and private businesses; and it will work to enhance public awareness and understanding of ocean acidification and how to address it.

     The panel will make recommendations to Gregoire, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other policy makers by Oct. 1, 2012.

    For more information: www.ecy.wa.gov/water/marine/oceanacidification.html

 

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