NOAA teams with scallop industry to study ocean acidification impacts

NOAA teams with scallop industry to study ocean acidification impacts

January 27, 2021

Guided by input from the fishing industry, a team of scientists will bring together computer modeling and experiments to inform management policies for Northeast scallop fisheries facing the threat of ocean acidification.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation (CFRF), and Rutgers University will work together to study this economically and culturally significant resource for coastal communities in New England, with support from NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program. Worth more than $500 million per year, scallops are the second most valuable fishery in the Northeast and are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification.

Almost all aspects of this research project involve industry-scientific community collaboration. The CFRF has created several research fleets in partnership with commercial fishermen to collect oceanographic and biological data. Oceanographic data collected from the CFRF/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Shelf Oceanographic Research Fleet and CFRF Lobster and Jonah Crab Research Fleets will be used to evaluate model simulations developed from those data.

Ocean acidification is the process by which the ocean increases in acidity as it absorbs excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a direct result of humans burning fossil fuels. Acidification reduces the amount of available calcium carbonate in the water. Many ocean-dwelling organisms, including scallops, need calcium carbonate to build their shells. The energy an organism has for growth and other physiological processes can also be affected by ocean acidification.

Scientists currently lack a clear understanding of exactly how ocean acidification will impact scallops.

Shannon Meseck, a research scientist at the NEFSC based in Milford, Connecticut, will focus on understanding the physiological effects of ocean acidification on scallops. As Meseck and her team at NOAA Fisheries collect biological data, it will be combined with climate models and social science data to create a more comprehensive picture.

"I'm excited about this collaboration, which will bring together our new data from larval and juvenile sea scallop experiments and new regional ocean acidification projection models,” Meseck said. “Incorporating new data specific to the effects of ocean acidification on sea scallops will help the industry anticipate those effects and respond. The more we can understand the effects of ocean acidification on each life stage, the better."

Dvora Hart, the NEFSC's lead assessment scientist for Atlantic sea scallops, will incorporate the findings into a computer model that will estimate the effects of ocean acidification on future catch. She provides short term forecasts of sea scallop catch and biomass to fisheries managers who use them to help set annual specifications for the fishery.

“This project is an opportunity to look longer term, and to predict the impacts of ocean acidification on the sea scallop fishery,” Hart said.

Samantha Siedlecki, assistant professor of marine sciences at UConn, will use computer models to investigate how changing ocean conditions could impact Northeast scallop fisheries in the near future. The model incorporates information about carbon emissions, freshwater sources, and temperature patterns.

The models will help the researchers and fishers understand how ocean acidification may impact factors such as scallops’ growth rates. If scallops cannot develop normally, it may take them longer to reach a harvestable size.

Currently, certain areas along the Northeast coast are closed to scalloping for the protection of scallops as they grow to maturity. These models can help fisheries managers determine where these areas may move to match where the young scallops have a healthier environment.

Siedlecki’s models will consider various levels of global carbon emissions, outlining the pathways ocean acidification could take under future measures implemented to curb global warming.

“Presenting future ocean conditions as a choice and an option we face as a society is important for engaging with coastal communities and the impact of our work,” Siedlecki said.

The researchers will collaborate directly with local fishing communities through their collaboration with the CFRF to develop tools that can be used to manage these vital resources.

“This project will improve the fishing community’s understanding of the impacts and implications of ocean acidification, and allow us to chart a path forward together,” said David Bethoney, executive director of the CFRF.

Lisa Colburn, an anthropologist from the NEFSC, will lead the effort to incorporate the concerns of coastal communities into the work. Her research includes understanding the historical social dynamics of the industry and the way it has adapted to changes in the environment and management.

“We will be holding workshops with the fishing industry, and we plan to have detailed discussions,” Colburn said. “We’ll take our approach and results to them and listen to their feedback to incorporate the industry perspective. We want to know how we can make our recommendations as meaningful as possible. The questions we hope to answer are: What do scallop fishermen and fishing communities need to know in order to adapt to and be resilient to changing ocean conditions? And how can this inform fisheries management?”

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