A study published on Monday claims that the increased acidity of our oceans linked to climate change could impact clam and oyster producers.

Higher levels of acidity make it more difficult for shellfish to build their shells, and the study claims that producers in the Northeast and the Gulf of Mexico are most vulnerable. The Pacific Northwest has previously suffered more from the problem, but that trend is expected to change. Losses in the oyster industry could hit $110 million, which would put 3,200 jobs at risk, writes Alister Doyle of Reuters.

U.S. Shellfish Producers At Risk From Acidification

The economic effects of acidification

Carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels is emitted into the atmosphere, before some of it is absorbed into the world’s oceans, where it forms a weak acid. This acid makes it more difficulty for shellfish to grow protective shells. This latest study looked into the impact on U.S. shellfish producers, finding that “the most socially vulnerable communities are spread along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.”

In order to reach their conclusion, scientists from the U.S., France, Australia and the Netherlands examined existing levels of ocean acidification, as well as pollution levels in rivers, other local job opportunities for shellfish workers and the possible existence of more resilient shellfish.

The researchers concluded that southern Massachusetts was extremely vulnerable because of the area’s reliance on the shellfish industry. Hawaii and Florida do not seem to be at high risk because cold waters are most affected.

That said, the shellfish industry in the warm Gulf of Mexico is at risk due to its dependence on a single species, the eastern oyster.

An increasingly important problem

However the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were found to be at the highest short-term risk if ocean acidification was taken in isolation from other factors such as river pollution.

A study published in 2013 claimed that the rate of acidification was at its highest in 55 million years. One potential area of hope is that breeding can develop shellfish that are resistant to acidification, according to Hans-Otto Poertner, an oceans expert and professor at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Producers that are at high-risk should develop strategies to reduce their exposure to the acidification of our oceans, which looks set to be an increasing problem.