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Two women in waders harvest oysters.
SOAR NH Oyster Aquaculture Krystin Ward (right) and her sister Laura Brown of Fox Point Oysters harvest oysters at Krystin's Choice Oysters farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire. © ©Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography

Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition

Shellfish Business Owners Demand Bold, Swift Climate Action

As mounting environmental pressures threaten their livelihoods and communities, shellfish business owners from across the country are demanding legislative action to adapt to and limit the impacts of climate change. Through a monthlong, multi-pronged campaign that includes outreach to elected representatives, administration officials, and concerned consumers, shellfish growers, hatcheries, restauranteurs, wholesalers, retailers, gear manufacturers, shuckers, and educators will discuss the challenges they’re facing and advance solutions.

The participants are members of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition (SGCC), a group of more than 250 shellfish industry stakeholders from 24 states. Founded in 2018 in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Coalition has hosted a federal advocacy event every year since its inception to advocate meaningful climate policy.

Though the Coalition represents diverse business types and geographic origins, its members are united by their concern about the climate crisis – and their commitment to securing a low-carbon future. “No part of this industry is unaffected by climate change. Rampant carbon pollution is acidifying our oceans, throwing precipitation patterns out of whack, prolonging and worsening storms, causing sea levels to rise, and increasing land and ocean temperatures – all of which is disrupting the entire shellfish supply chain, from farm to plate.” said Bob Earnest, co-founder of the Chebeague Island Oyster Company in Maine. “We know we’re not the only ones being affected. We just want to use our voice to help in whatever way we can.”

In addition to the thousands of jobs and businesses supported by shellfish aquaculture, a great deal more is at stake; the industry’s wellbeing is inextricably linked to that of coastal communities, where seafood plays an outsized role in economic growth, tourism, and local food security. Beyond its social benefits, restorative shellfish aquaculture is also central to ecological health by filtering excess nutrients from seawater, providing wildlife habitat, capturing carbon dioxide, and protecting shorelines from sea level rise and storms.

During this month’s outreach, this complex web of human and natural relationships that is vulnerable to climate change will be top of mind, according to SGCC project manager Sally McGee. “In fighting for climate action, shellfish businesses aren’t just looking out for their own interests,” she said. “They’re also actively working to protect marine ecosystems, coastal communities, and food supply chains from environmental extremes. Because these systems depend on one another to thrive, preserving one means preserving them all.” 

Doing so will require bold, economy-wide efforts to swiftly curb carbon emissions as well as prepare for more frequent and severe climatic abnormalities. To meet these goals, Coalition members are urging legislators to take up policies that will facilitate the transition to clean energy, support sustainable food production, conserve and restore natural ecosystems, and invest in coastal resilience. “There’s no silver bullet for climate change. It’s a complex, far-reaching problem, and its solutions need to be as well,” said Jeff Hetrick, director of the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute in Seward, Alaska. “We’re asking our elected representatives across the political spectrum to work together on a broad range of mitigation and adaptation strategies.”

Such initiatives must be implemented promptly in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and limit warming to the critical 1.5-degree threshold. “Our grandchildren deserve nothing less than immediate action,” noted Florida restaurateur Ed Chiles. “Time is short and there is much to do to protect our precious estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico from climate change. By putting a face to this issue and sharing our experiences with lawmakers, we hope to motivate them to take advantage of the ever-narrowing window of opportunity to avert the worst impacts of this crisis.”

For more information about the coalition, its membership, or how to join or support, visit nature.org/shellfish4climate.

The Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition (SGCC) is a passionate group of shellfish farmers, harvesters, hatchery operators, wholesalers, retailers, and restaurateurs across 21 U.S. states and Canada. Members are committed to bringing about climate action by sharing personal stories about how climate change has impacted their lives and livelihoods. The coalition’s goal is to advocate for sound climate policy and secure a low-carbon future to benefit the shellfish we love and the waters that sustain them—before it's too late. The SGCC was established in 2018 when a group of seven U.S. shellfish farmers partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help move the needle on climate change. To learn more, visit nature.org/shellfish4climate or follow @shellfish4climate on Instagram.