B.C. fishermen are struggling to deal with catastrophic losses as millions of scallops and oysters are dying off in record numbers along the West Coast -- a crisis experts suggest is being caused by an increase in fossil fuels in the atmosphere, leading to a rise in ocean acidity.

Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops in B.C., says the rapid decrease in scallop populations has cost him millions in revenue.

“By June of 2013, we lost almost 95 per cent of our crops,” he told CTV News.

Saunders isn’t alone; oyster hatcheries along the West Coast say they are also losing product, causing some businesses to scale back operations and lay off staff.

According to a report by the BC Shellfish Grower’s Association, the steep decline in marine species can be linked to the recent boom in the fossil-fuel industry.

Experts say that oceans, which naturally absorb carbon dioxide, are becoming more acidic due to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Chris Harley, a marine ecologist from the University of British Columbia, says abnormally acidic waters make it difficult for shellfish to build the tough outer shells they need to survive.

“All the things an animal does to survive, some of those things become more difficult when the pH is so low,” he told CTV News.

“This is a bit of a red flag.”

Peter Ross, an expert in ocean pollution science, says the sudden change in shellfish populations may also have much broader implications on the greater marine ecosystem.

“Whenever we see an impact at some level of the food chain, there is a cascading effect at other levels of the food chain,” he said.

Lilli Andrade, a B.C. seafood store owner, says the decrease in local products has forced her to import scallops from Alaskan vendors.

“We try to bring in local product as much as possible, so it’s not great that we are not able to bring in our local scallops,” she said.

The BC Shellfish Grower’s Association is asking Fisheries and Oceans Canada to participate in a study with local growers to help determine how the government can help the industry avert a potential crisis.

With a report from CTV’s Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy.