AUGUSTA – The Legislature will consider a proposal to form a commission to study ocean acidification, one of the effects of increased carbon in the atmosphere which scientists say threatens the state’s shellfish industries.

The Legislative Council, the leadership body that chooses which bills will be heard in the session that begins in January, voted Thursday, Nov. 21, to put the proposal on the docket. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, would establish an 11-member commission to study and address the negative effects of ocean acidification.

“Maine’s marine resources support a billion dollar industry and thousands of jobs,” Devin said in a press release. “Ocean acidification has the potential to shut down Maine’s shellfish industry and we can’t afford to lose it.”

Rising levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use are in part absorbed by the ocean. Because carbon dioxide and seawater combine to make carbonic acid, these naturally alkaline ocean waters become more acidic. Carbonic acid can dissolve the shells of shellfish, an important commercial marine resource. Over the past two centuries, ocean acidity levels have increased 30 percent.

If left unchecked, ocean acidification could cause major losses to Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, risking thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

Nick Battista, director of marine programs at the Island Institute, said ocean acidification is one of the least understood threats facing Maine’s economy.

“This bill underscores our state’s leadership role in marine conservation and the serious threat that ocean acidification poses to the sustainability of Maine’s coastal communities,” he said.

Virginia Olsen from Oceanville Seafood in Stonington said ocean acidification has serious ramifications and needs to be a priority for Maine.

“We can have multiple conservation programs,” she said. “However, if we don’t address the fact that ocean acidification is happening now, we will still have multiple fisheries experiencing crises with major economic impacts that none of us are prepared for.”

A 2007 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered changes in ocean chemistry not expected for another 50 to 100 years were present on the West Coast, which caused the failure of shellfish growth in Washington state.

“Our marine resource based economy is already being threatened,” said Devin. “I look forward to working on this important issue in the upcoming session.”

The second regular session will convene on Wednesday, Jan. 8.