The Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition is a partnership among shellfish growers, other entities in the food sector and The Nature Conservancy that was created earlier this year to advance effective climate policy. In this Q&A, Project Manager Sally McGee talks about the Coalition and its goals.

What is the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition?

The Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition is a partnership, initiated by seven East and West coast shellfish farms and The Nature Conservancy. The member farms, now totaling 16, recognize that climate change poses a threat to business and food production for a rapidly growing human population. The Coalition is open to members representing all food sectors who wish to engage with consumers and policy makers to help chart America’s course toward a low carbon future.

Why should shellfish growers care about climate change?

Shellfish growers are no strangers to the range of effects on their businesses and their bottom lines that are coming from climate change impacts. Some are experiencing ocean acidification, which is influenced by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, on larval oysters that are unable to grow shell properly. Others are seeing the impacts of sea level rise on their coastal businesses. And, increased frequency and intensity of storms impacts shellfish growers’ ability to get their products to market reliably. The longer that we go without addressing the causes of climate change, the worse these impacts are likely to become and more resources and expenditure will be required to address them.

How did the Coalition happen?

Bill Mook, owner of Mook Sea Farm in Walpole, Maine, brought the idea to The Nature Conservancy, on behalf of his own farm and a group of six other growers. They were eager to make a difference, to tell their stories on as broad a scale as possible to impress upon the public and policymakers the need for climate action now. The Nature Conservancy has worked with shellfish growers on coastal restoration and science projects relating to understanding the effects of shellfish aquaculture on ecosystems. Our 50 State Climate Strategy [LINK https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/urgentissues/global-warming-climate-change/building-collective-action/states-of-change.xml], which emphasizes both top-down national actions and bottom-up initiatives from states and local areas, offered a framework for us to serve in a coordinating role for the Coalition and to work with growers in a new way. So we negotiated a partnership with the founding growers to establish this new relationship focused on shared interests in addressing climate change.

What is the purpose of the Coalition?

The Coalition as a partnership between the shellfish growers, other entities in the food sector, and The Nature Conservancy. Its purpose is to advance effective climate policy by focusing on four areas:

  1. Educating consumers about the need to take action to slow and stop greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Communicating with policy makers about needed action to address climate change.
  3. Growing the Coalition including more shellfish growers and other food sectors.
  4. Coordinating, advancing and publicizing research on the impacts of climate change on shellfish and other agricultural products.

How has the Coalition been received?

We first introduced the SGCC at the National Shellfisheries Association meeting in Seattle in March. Bill Dewey (Taylor Shellfish), Bill Mook (Mook Sea Farm) and I presented at the close of the climate change track. We did a slightly bigger launch on the east coast at the end of April. The Billion Oyster Project very graciously allowed us to use their fundraiser in Brooklyn as an opportunity to reach out to growers and start talking to the public about our mission. The response has been great. We’ve already added nine growers to our original seven, and another twenty are interested in joining. We are looking forward to adding members from the Gulf of Mexico.

What is involved in joining the Coalition?

Prospective members can email me (smcgee@tnc.org) to learn more about the Coalition, and to determine if membership in the SGCC is a good fit. We look for certain things to be in alignment with potential members. All our members have agreed on certain specific principles relating to climate change, and anyone who joins is putting themselves on record as agreeing with them as well. Specifically:

  • Human impact on the Earth’s climate system is well documented, scientifically understood, and profound.
  • Taking action to address climate change is imperative to secure the viability of our businesses, our communities, and the natural resources they depend upon.
  • Improving people’s understanding of climate change and its impact on our businesses represent an important way to secure public support for clean energy policies.
  • Enacting policies that reduce carbon emissions and encourage low-carbon choices are crucial to a low carbon future.

There are some administrative requirements as well. We ask all prospective members to sign conflict of interest forms where appropriate and that they sign on to our Corporate Agreement between The Nature Conservancy and all Coalition members.

What do the Coalition members have to do once they’ve joined?

The SGCC is closely connected with The Nature Conservancy’s 50-State Climate Strategy, and helps to further the aims of that program. What does that look like in practice? Coalition members end up doing a number of things. Most have designated staff people who operate as a liaison between the grower and the coalition. Member input is critical to shaping Coalition activities, including developing and promoting policy positions, marketing materials and events.

We’re looking to engage in a number of activities to promote our issues and our work – our growers already participate in food industry events and we want to use those opportunities and even more public events to educate the community and policymakers about climate impacts and how they are affecting our members’ products. We plan on talking to policymakers, both in their offices at statehouses and on Capitol Hill, and we want to bring them out to the farms. We want them to see first-hand what’s happening on the water and to the hatcheries. We want to do the same with the media. Basically, anything we can do to get our stories out and show people how climate change is already impacting our businesses, and how important it is to act on climate now.

Is this really going to have a positive impact on climate change?

Yes! Growers have real, front-line experience with climate change impacts, and those stories are a compelling way to raise awareness with the public, and to influence policymakers at the federal, state and local levels. Shellfish growers are part of treasured coastal communities all over America, and the products they bring to market are big sellers in America’s stores and restaurants. They engage with hundreds of thousands of consumers annually. Because our growing Coalition has significant reach and such a powerful story to tell, we expect the Coalition will command attention from policymakers and the media.

What about other food sectors?

Shellfish growers are part of a larger network of business relationships with seafood wholesalers, restaurants, and others that rely on a dependable source of shellfish. We welcome all participants in this larger community to consider joining the Coalition. Additionally, Coalition members recognize that other food sectors are feeling the impacts of climate change as well. Whether its row crop farmers in the Midwest, or supermarket chains, the Coalition looks forward to partnering with other food sectors to address climate change.