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December 1, 2014
Ocean acidity had eaten holes in the scallop shells and killed the larvae. On average, only five scallops survived in each cage.
"Our scallop hybrid is done," said Saunders. "It took us 25 years to develop and perfect it."
When employees first started seeing signs of high mortality rates among the Pacific scallops in the strait earlier in 2013, they introduced rock scallops, which are native to the eastern Pacific Ocean, in the dying scallops' cages to see what would happen.
The rock scallops survived. "They grow, reproduce and don't die. It's good news," Saunders said. "We put 11 million rock scallops this year in the water. We are hoping to get 50 per cent to harvest."
The only caveat is the rock scallops grow more slowly than the Pacific scallop, needing an additional year.
The company's first harvest of rock scallops won't occur until the end of 2016.
In the past month, 21 Island Scallops employees, half the company's workforce, have been laid off.
"We have a couple of very poor years ahead of us," Saunders said.
To prepare for the future, the company has partnered with the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the University of Prince Edward Island, Rutgers University and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Genomic Lab for a multi-discipline, multi-year research project to identify the superior traits that allow coastal shellfish to survive in acidic oceans.
The group has applied to Genome Canada for funding through its 2014 Genomics and Feeding the Future large-scale applied research project competition.
"I've talked to a number of shellfish producers around the world and there is a feeling we can find the root cause," Saunders said.
"Once we know the cause, we can breed shellfish to survive in the ocean."
The research project is using data from an experiment that was done at Island Scallops three years ago. UBC zoology professor Chris Harley and his students grew scallops and oysters under different concentrations of carbon dioxide. The oceans act as a "sink" for CO2 but the absorption makes the water more acidic.