Ocean Acidification and our Oyster Culture – Part I

karsten_cameron_01In March 2013, I met Benoit Eudeline. Benoit speaks in a thick French accent and is the lead scientific researcher at Taylor Shellfish Farms’ hatchery.  Located in the pristine Dabob Bay, Taylor Shellfish is Washington State’s foremost producer of farm-raised shellfish, supplying the industry with top-grade oysters, mussels, clams and geoduck.  It produces two-thirds of the state’s mollusk aquaculture and is the country’s largest supply to Asia, boosting its’ economy and solidifying the region’s bearing as a premium seafood culture.  But in 2008, all this came to a screeching halt.  Something was happening.  Numbers were falling at Taylor Shellfish and each of the other farms in the area.  Production was at a loss.  Larvae within the confines of the hatcheries became insolvent at surviving.  Holes appeared in their developing shells.  Disease and predators disrupted growth.  Something was brewing in the Pacific Northwest.

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karsten_cameron_10Nowhere else in the world was this environmental phenomenon occurring.  Mollusks, particularly oysters, were thriving as usual, but in the northwestern estuaries of the Pacific Ocean, the declining health of young shellfish became obvious.  First, the oysters; then slowly the shells of young geoducks and the tendrils of mussels, which they rely on to suspend to their host, began showing signs of frailty.  As the seasons over the next few years passed in confusion, scientists began studying the changing environments until one thing became evident.

To see Part 1 of the multimedia project Ocean Acidification and our Oyster Culture, please click here

Comments

  1. Mr. Taylor grew up in Shelton, Wash., on the South Sound, where brackish inlets and bays recede to reveal tidal mud flats, perfect habitat for oysters and clams. At that time the local economy was split between oystering and a pulp mill that drew on the region’s ample forests. The mill employed about 400 workers but polluted the water, poisoning oysters. A decades-long confrontation ensued between pulp workers and oystermen. Unlike oystermen in other states, those in Washington had long owned their own beds and so had extra incentive to fight for them. Mr. Taylor helped lead the oystermen’s fight, including lawsuits demanding reparations after oyster harvests fell by as much as 90%. The native Olympia oysters were nearly wiped out and still haven’t recovered. The mill was finally closed in 1957 after Washington state refused to grant it a wastewater permit. In the late 1960s, Mr. Taylor and a brother established their aquaculture company. They started buying prime oyster grounds and built a hatchery that produced hundreds of millions of oyster larvae. They expanded into clams and mussels, which are grown in bags suspended in the bay. Thanks, in no small part, to his work Puget Sound oysters became so popular that some connoisseurs speak of “merroir,” subtle differences in flavor depending on where in the sound the oysters are grown. “There are beds—you can throw a rock from one to the another, and in one the oysters fatten up and are great. In the other they will always be mediocre,” Mr. Taylor told Forbes in 2010. Skip Bennet of Duxbury and Island Creek Oysters has reported variations in Eastern oysters. And at the Massachusetts Oyster Project , we have seen large differences in growth and fauna in surprizingly short distances.

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