I have a secret. It is one that is likely to alienate me from my fellow District residents, with whom I have been sharing a city for the last six years, but I just need to get it off my chest; I’m not a fan of the blue crab. There. I’ve said it. May the spirit of the Chesapeake Bay forgive me! It is my humble opinion that if you have to smother something in seasoning in order to enjoy it (yes, Old Bay, I’m talking about you), then you can’t really be called a true fan of the item itself. You might think I’m a horrible person for speaking ill of the blue crab in this way, but it is only because you have not tried the most delectable crustacean known to man, the Dungeness crab. I admit that the Dungeness is my first love, and let us be honest, it is hard to turn your back on your first love. So in reality, maybe my relationship with the blue crab never had a fighting chance to begin with. How can the fishy, old bay seasoning flavor of the blue crab ever hold a candle to the sweet meat the Dungeness provides?
Having grown up minutes away from Humboldt Bay in Northern California, Dungeness crab was always around. It was a staple on the table during the holidays, a treat for birthdays and other important celebrations, and a fun animal to sic on your sister while out tide pooling. My family had no ties to the local crab shacks besides being one of their biggest fans. As with most things from your childhood, you believe those traditions will never end, and speak wistfully of them to any who will listen. This past Wednesday I had the experience of going up to Capitol Hill to listen to a briefing being given by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA) (www.pcsga.org). The topic of the day: Ocean Acidification (OA) (OA_factsheet), the process by which low pH seawater, caused by increasing levels of atmospheric CO2, is inflicting harm on my Dungeness crabs (along with multitudes of other shell-forming animals). As CO2 reacts with seawater, it lowers seawater pH and reduces the concentration of carbonate ions, an essential component in the calcium carbonate that makes up the shells of shellfish and the skeletons of corals. As you can imagine, this is a pressing issue not just for the shellfish growers and those who love to eat said shellfish, but for all the other non-human animals that rely on microscopic, shell-forming, zooplankton that serve as the base of most marine food chains.
You may ask, is there no hope? Are shellfish and those who eat them, going the way of the dodo? Well, hopefully not. A recent arrival on the OA scene is the federal government, and they are here to help.
In March of 2009, the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring (FOARAM) Act passed in the House of Representatives and Senate. The Act authorizes appropriations for ocean acidification research, such as the money that was used by NOAA and the PCSGA to start a monitoring system in some of their hatcheries. These monitoring systems have allowed workers and researchers to pinpoint the best times to increase hatchery production, which had dropped to 25% of normal levels in 2007.
Ocean acidification is happening now, and much more rapidly than scientists initially thought it would. The ramifications of this could be one of the greatest marine mass extinctions in hundreds of millions of years (we’re talking Permian here people). And yes, the financial impact would be equally epic, certainly extending to the global fishing industry, as well as to the makers of Old Bay Seasoning. In short, you East Coasters might have to get your Old Bay fix on fries.
As with most things involving CO2 these days, no amount of research and monitoring can reverse the effects of OA, but what we can do is try to mitigate its impacts and adapt to the changes that are occurring. If we don’t…well wouldn’t it be sad if my daughter grows up not knowing that there were such things as Dungeness crabs, let alone being able to turn her nose up at eating blue ones like her mom.