Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Oysters to the rescue

Puget Sound needs oysters like a car in Seattle needs windshield wipers. Once upon a time, oysters filled the Sound and filtered and cleaned the water.

Too bad we ate most of our oysters and killed the rest with water pollution. But wait, maybe it's not too late. The Nature Conservancy, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, and volunteers are trying to restore our native Olympia oyster by building them new homes.

It's a great example of ocean restoration done right, because the new homes are nothing more than old oyster shells put back into the Sound. Baby oysters grow best on old oyster shells, making huge oyster reefs a normal part of a healthy bay.

The program will rely on natural reproduction to reseed the bays, so there are no worries of planting the wrong oysters from hatcheries. The Sound seems clean enough for oysters to thrive now, so it's worth a try.

Some people say the small native Olympia oysters taste better than the exotic imports now common in oyster farms. Maybe someday the world will know about Puget Sound's famous Olympia oysters.


Anonymous said...

Had to chime in on this on as working on the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration has been a struggle. We almost can't put enough in to offset mortality from MSX and Dermo. Many folks that I talked years ago for an aquaculture article felt that we had waited too long to get a handle on it, and the window of opportunity had passed.

I met a guy, Rich Pelz, who's originally from your neck of the woods whose now based in southern MD. His gig--Circle C Ranch where he's into bioengineering oysters to grow faster to get to market size before the disease wipes them out. (He calls it not oyster farming but oyster rancing as oysters are definitely NOT plants). He also, by the way, has bred them to have thinner and thinner shells so instead of shucking them you could literally snip them open with a pair of scissors.

He's tried for a long time to make it work on high-end white linen restaurant business but says that the waters in Chesapeake are so polluted that there is too little real estate to grow oysters properly making it too expensive of a proposition. In VA, they'll let you take oysters to what they call relay stations--places where the water quality is adequate and they can park the oysters to filter feed for several days and purge their systems. Maryland, when we spoke, had no such policy.

He told me that the real money making is not in growing oysters for food, but in growing oysters as waste management systems. He intends to contract with muncipalities to establish oyster beds right off sewage outflows and streams and rivers to control all the polluted runoff from farms and homes and in the process make it easier to be compliant with the Clean Water Act.

That was years ago, and I'm not sure how feasible that operation turned out to be, but I suppose it's great news for crassostrea virginica...

Good luck in the Puget Sound, it's been one hell of a struggle on this coast.

Anonymous said...

Recycling oyster shells has become fairly common practice along the South Carolina coast. The state Department of Natural Resources has set up oyster recycling drop sites where people dump their shells after having an oyster roast. The shells are collected and "quarantined" for a period to make rid them of any possible diseases they could have due to being from another area like the Gulf and then they are placed in planned oyster reefs or dumped back into creeks. From the coverage in the local media the program seems to be a sucess.

Hodad said...

there is just too much development polluted water
may not even be able to surf here in Myrtle Beach manana for International surf day due to rain today and runoff manana
golf courses and condos
not many oysters,crabs or clean areas for small fry left
we sell oysters here, from somewhere else
hope this guy gets it correctly, however playing God with genetics is scary enough
6 billion on a planet built for 1/2 billion
go figure