April 04, 2020
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Maine shellfish growers on Capitol Hill to lobby for climate action

Community Author: Bill Mook
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Mook Sea Farms, Inc. | Contributed
Mook Sea Farms, Inc. | Contributed

On March 4-5, shellfish growers from across the country — including Maine’s own Mook Sea Farms, Maine Shellfish Developers, and Chebeague Island Oyster Company — will descend on Washington to lobby their representatives in Congress to take action on climate change. In what began in 2018 as a group of seven shellfish growers in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition (SGCC) has now swelled to include more than 140 shellfish operations (23 in Maine) from 20 states across the United States many of whom will be carrying the coalition’s climate-related concerns to Capitol Hill in March.

The nation’s shellfish industry is responsible for an estimated annual production value of $500 million and is the fastest-growing sector of agriculture in the country. In Maine, shellfish harvesting and related businesses currently account for $32 million. It’s an industry largely comprised of small businesses, which are becoming increasingly important to the economies of their small-town coastal communities. With rapidly changing environmental conditions, shellfish aquaculture is attracting a growing number of people from the traditional fisheries, whose families have been part of Maine’s working coast for generations. Like most farming, shellfish farming relies heavily on the right growing conditions—and climate change has been disrupting those growing conditions.

Anywhere there’s a shoreline, there are problems: increased sea level, ocean acidification, frequency and severity of storms. These are all impacts directly related to climate change that put the viability of the broader shellfish industry supply chain from grower to consumer in jeopardy.

The Shellfish Grower’s Climate Coalition is advocating for actionable climate policy that will help change course before keeping up with change becomes too difficult and expensive. While the membership of the SGCC spans the entire country and shellfish supply chain, the common denominator here is evident: a profound sense of urgency.

“We aren’t waiting for the impacts of climate change, we’re already suffering them,” said Bill Mook from Mook Sea Farm. “We’ve modified our hatchery procedures in response to ocean acidification; , seen costs associated with damage to equipment and buildings from severe storms increase, and we’ve made a large investment in a land-based recirculating system for holding shellfish to avoid harvest closures during large rainfall events.”

“It’s important that people realize that this isn’t just about what’s on the raw bar,” said Sally McGee, Northeast Marine Program Director at The Nature Conservancy and SGCC project manager. “This is about what the future holds for family livelihoods, small businesses and the coastal communities.”

“We’re coming together to speak out for climate action and you can help protect the future of the shellfish you love to eat, the hardworking people who grow them, and the coastal communities they come from by adding your voice to ours,” said Bob Earnest of Chebeague Island Oyster Company.

The SGCC calls on Congress to support federal action to address climate change, including increased investments in zero carbon energy and emission reductions for transportation, energy production and other sources.

For more information and to join or support the coalition, please visit: nature.org/shellfish4climate.

Maine Shellfish Developers is a 4-year old start-up providing large seedlings to other growers and raising market size oysters. The company intends to farm oysters indoors, away from the coast — driven in part by the increasingly difficult environmental conditions caused by climate change impacts—utilizing shellfish specific recirculating aquaculture systems.

Mook Sea Farm is an oyster farm founded in 1985 on the Damariscotta River in Midcoast Maine. They rear the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) from egg to adult size. The hatchery produces over 140 million juvenile oysters (seed) annually for sale to other oyster growers along the East Coast from North Carolina to Maine, and for their own cultivation of Moondancers and Mookie Blues.

Chebeague Island Oyster Company began in 2013 as a way to grow several things: local food, small business, a few jobs on Chebeague… They started as a community demonstration project to help build small family-run business based on the island and Casco Bay. They became a business in 2015.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, they create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. They are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 79 countries and territories, TNC uses a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.