Shellfish aquaculture, one of the most sustainable forms of animal protein production, is inextricably linked to environmental conditions. The scientific evidence linking human actions to measurable changes in our climate and in ocean water chemistry is irrefutable and these changes have already affected us and other shellfish growers. In 2009, we experienced larval production problems at our hatchery, which were eventually linked to changes in water chemistry through a process called ocean (or more specifically, coastal) acidification, which results in lower seawater pH. This happened shortly after West Coast hatcheries experienced similar larval production problems due the same water chemistry changes. The drivers of water chemistry changes on the East and West Coast are different, but both are linked to human activity.
We began buffering the water used in the hatchery to raise the pH to optimal levels. The effect was immediate, resulting in better larval production than ever before. But this made us realize that climate change was costing us in other ways and these costs are increasing for us and for other shellfish farms. We are increasingly facing heavy rainfall events resulting in growing area closures, which cost us in sales of market oysters. Warming waters are leading to the spread of oyster pathogens, putting our product at risk. Oyster farms are being decimated by more frequent intense hurricanes.
These realities have led Mook Sea Farm to become a leader in environmental action at local, regional, and national levels.
Because of the importance of a clean environment to shellfish production, Bill realized that growers could be an important voice in calling for change. He organized seven shellfish farms on the East and West Coasts to join together with The Nature Conservancy in the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition, which launched in April 2018 with 7 founding member farms. The Coalition has grown since then, and as of January 2019, is comprised of over 80 shellfish farms from 19 states, along with supporting organizations.
Because we have seen direct impacts of coastal acidification on our larval production, we have been involved with NECAN nearly since its inception in 2013. NECAN works as a nexus of scientists, federal and state resource managers, and marine industry partners dedicated to coordinating and guiding regional observing, research, and modeling endeavors focused on ocean and coastal acidification (OCA). Meredith White, our Head of Research and Development, worked with NECAN before starting at Mook Sea Farm, and became the Chair of the NECAN Industry Working Group once she joined us in 2016. Both Bill and Meredith serve on the NECAN Steering Committee and were co-authors on a 2015 State of the Science paper published in Oceanography.
Bill and Meredith met while serving on Maine’s Ocean Acidification Commission in 2014, the first commission of its kind on the East Coast. In 2015, that commission published a report presenting six goals for the state to increase its resiliency to ocean acidification. The final goal was for the state to maintain a sustained and coordinated focus on ocean acidification. A subsequent bill to create an ongoing commission was not supported, which led to the formation of MOCA. MOCA works as a volunteer partnership composed of industry members, state legislators, academics, extension specialists, and state agency representatives. The role of MOCA is to provide a forum to coordinate and communicate ocean and coastal acidification research and policy.
In November, 2018, Bill won a Conservation Leadership Award from the Natural Resources Council of Maine. This award recognizes individuals who have made significant lasting contributions to safeguarding Maine's environment. Bill was recognized for putting his real-life experience as a shellfish grower and business owner into advocacy work for clean water and a healthy climate.