PEI

Why P.E.I. aquaculture businesses are focusing on climate change

Climate change was one of the key themes at this year's conference of the Prince Edward Island Aquaculture Alliance.

Research includes impact of rising sea temperatures on mussels and eastern oyster

The growers in the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition share personal stories of how their businesses are being impacted by climate change. (Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition)

Climate change was one of the key themes at this year's conference of the Prince Edward Island Aquaculture Alliance.

That impressed one of the presenters, Sally McGee, who's with a new group in the United States called the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition.

In its first year, the group has 94 shellfish growers in the United States from 19 states that are all working together to address climate change.

"They all see the impacts of climate change, they all want to take action because it's having impacts on their businesses," said McGee, who's also with The Nature Conservancy, U.S., which is helping with the project.

"To promote the message that impacts of climate change are real, do something about it, to policy makers."

Sally McGee told the conference about the success of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition in raising awareness around climate change. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

'Start paying attention'

The coalition has created a series of videos of members talking about the impact of climate change on their businesses.

"Their stories told from their own perspectives are what makes the coalition as powerful as it is," McGee said.

"A lot of law makers don't hear about climate change at all so when they do hear from these businesses that play an important role in local economies, then they start paying attention."

McGee says the members of the coalition are being impacted by ocean acidification, sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of storms and rising water temperatures.

The coalition is calling on legislators to move forward on a carbon tax, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"The primary thing is to limit carbon emissions," McGee said.

"Part of the agreement is for members to take personal action as well. They're all committed to doing things to lower their own carbon footprint."

The coalition now includes 94 shellfish growers in the United States from 19 states. ( Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition)

McGee says participants at the conference in Charlottetown seemed to like the idea of an industry coalition focused on climate change.

"Some are interested in joining the coalition as it exists, or exploring ideas for establishing their own coalition in Canada," McGee said. 

"But I think the bottom line is that these businesses' stories are so powerful when they are able to share them with policy makers who won't know unless those stories get out."

Sea temperature rise

The conference also heard from a PhD student from Dalhousie University who has done research focusing on climate change and shellfish.

For her master's research in 2017, Laura Steeves did a modelling project on sea surface temperatures and shellfish growth in coastal waters of Nova Scotia and P.E.I., looking at blue mussels and the eastern oyster.

For her master's research in 2017, Laura Steeves did a modelling project on sea surface temperatures and shellfish growth in coastal waters of Nova Scotia and P.E.I., looking at blue mussels and the eastern oyster. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"Oysters and mussels prefer different temperatures and generally oysters are a more thermally tolerant species here than the mussels that we're culturing," Steeves said.

"So in the future in some regions that are going to see very warm temperatures especially in the summertimes and for long periods of time."

The predicted increase in sea surface temperatures, she said, will affect the two species differently.

Steeves says oysters and mussels prefer different temperatures and generally oysters on P.E.I. are a more thermally tolerant species than the blue mussels. (CBC)

"We're likely to see increased performance in terms of growth of those oysters," Steeves said. 

"And it could happen that the mussels are going to see a decrease in their performance because temperatures are going to increase beyond what they're comfortable with."

She says summertime temperatures are already a concern for mussel farmers on P.E.I.

Steeves says mussel farmers on P.E.I. are already very aware that summertime temperatures can negatively impact their species. (CBC)

"Especially sometimes with increased water temperatures you see decreased oxygen in the water which those mussels need to breathe," Steeves said.

"You can already sometimes see decreased growth or even mortality happening."

Changes ahead

Steeves says the changing climate will mean people in the industry may have to make changes, including what species they choose and cultivating farther offshore where the water is cooler.

The climate change presenters also included researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Climate Research Lab at UPEI and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

More P.E.I. news

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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