Climate Change Looms as a Long-Term Threat to Aquaculture
Aquaculture is on the rise in Massachusetts. For many entering the business, shellfish farming seems like a more secure option than the marine fisheries. But climate change looms as a long-term threat over the industry.
Paul Wittenstein switched his career track from commercial fishing to aquaculture in college. He’s now general manager at the Aquacultural Research Corporation in Dennis.
Growing up in Harwich, he worked summer jobs at fish markets and on chartered fishing boats. In college, he started out studying fisheries technology, but it was a bad time for the industry. “All the while I was in school, I was watching the fishing industry struggling,” he said. “I watched the cod disappear. I watched small boats battling big boats. At the same time, I saw this tiny little shellfish industry start to take hold.”
For Wittenstein, the signs were clear. He switched his focus to shellfish farming, and he’s now general manager at the Aquacultural Research Corporation (ARC) in Dennis. It’s one of the leading seed suppliers in the region, and it spawns millions of oysters and clams each year.
The Aquacultural Research Corporation in Dennis spawns millions of oysters each year. They feed on algae from the nearby creek.
Ten years ago, the Massachusetts shellfish industry was worth $6.2 million. Since then, its worth has quadrupled, to over $28 million.
But concerns over climate change make the future of aquaculture look less certain.
Scientists say that the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. The water is a mix of warmer water that comes from the south, and cooler water that comes from the north. Climate change causes the ice in the Arctic to melt, which causes the currents that bring the mix of water to the Gulf of Maine to change.
Daniel McCorkle, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, says the warming water coming up from the South opens the door for more illnesses that affect shellfish and the humans that eat them.
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