Kilmer advocates for competition to reduce ocean acidification

bshannon@theolympian.comMay 13, 2014 

Rep. Derek Kilmer listens to Hama Hama Oyster Co.’s Lissa James on Monday in Tacoma. Northern Fish President John Swanes is at right.

LUI KIT WONG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Facing a Congress that rarely is able to act on contentious topics, U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer thinks he has found a way get more research done on ocean acidification without forking out new taxpayer dollars.

Kilmer’s solution, which the Gig Harbor Democrat intends to introduce next week in the House, is to let federal agencies use existing dollars devoted to research on the topic — which he estimates at nearly $30 million a year — for research competitions. He thinks this can encourage competitors to put other private dollars to work on the ocean acidity problem, which is tied to carbon dioxide emissions that scientists also link to climate change.

By Kilmer’s estimate, the proposal could generate “four to 10 times more value than the amount of the prize’’ — or up to $50 million for a $5 million prize, based on testimony he’s heard during hearings in the House science committee on other research competitions.

“There are clear questions here — will ocean acidification affect the salmon that we are working very hard to recover?” Kilmer said Monday during a press conference at Northern Fish, a food company based in South Tacoma. “Will it affect other species of fish and crabs that our economy is dependent on? … We’ve got a lot to learn about ocean acidification.”

Northern Fish President John Swanes and vice president Ross Swanes both said they had seen a drop-off in shellfish supplies along the coast in recent years.

“This is a big deal for our industry and for Lilliwaup, a little town I live in, there aren’t a lot of jobs,’’ said Lissa James, retail and marketing manager for the Hama Hama Co., which raises shellfish in Hood Canal. James said the availability of oyster seed is the challenge and that demand for products is not a problem.

Scientists say the Pacific Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, shifting the acidity of the seas and making it harder for oyster growers to produce baby oysters, or “seed,” naturally from larvae.

Research shows waters off the coast and in Puget Sound are prone to the upwelling of more acidic waters. But lately acidic waters are present far more frequently, harming organisms at the base of the food chain such as plankton and tiny snails called pteropods, as well as oysters higher up on the chain, according to Terrie Klinger and Jan Newton, co-directors of the Washington Ocean Acidification Center at the University of Washington.

“We have more information needs and we simply don’t have the tools we need,” Klinger added.

Kilmer, who is running for re-election to a second term this year, said the shellfish industry is a leading employer in the 6th Congressional District, which includes parts of Tacoma and the Olympic Peninsula. A November 2012 report by the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification said it provided $270 million in yearly statewide economic value and employs 3,200 people.

Republican Marty McClendon has filed campaign-finance paperwork indicating he plans to run against Kilmer, and on Monday W. Greybeard McPherson, who stated no party preference, formally filed to run.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com

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