Ocean acidification and Pacific oyster larval failures in the Pacific Northwest United States
Starting in July 2007, the three major shellfish hatcheries in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, located in Washington and Oregon, experienced substantial production failures of Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) larvae. This jeopardized an industry worth $270 million and 3,200 jobs in Washington State alone. Scientists and industry, working together, identified ocean acidification (OA) – the progressive increase in seawater acidity caused by the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide released by human activity – as the cause. As an immediate response, large shellfish hatcheries began monitoring to identify and avoid OA events and built hatcheries outside of the region. A state-level blue ribbon panel consisting of scientists, industry representatives, elected officials and natural resource managers reviewed knowledge around OA and recommended appropriate responses. The response to OA in Washington State sprang primarily from informal governance networks led by charismatic industry representatives who used their social capital to exert influence on science and policymaking. Additional capacity exists to add resilience to the system via both the formal and informal elements of the governance system, and because OA stands to progressively affect the natural system, the time is right to take advantage of that capacity.