Monday, November 26, 2012

Oyster Restoration Supporter Spotted in Mass Oyster Hat in New York's Times Square

oyster restoration supporter Enrique Bascunana
Atlanta resident Enrique Bascunana was photoed by Paparazzi in Times Square
We are coming to the end of this style of hat as we switch to our new logo and branding. If you go for the classic look, you can order at the MOP Store. Profits from the sale of these goods goes to support oyster restoration. Soon we will have hats with our new logo below. We also will have stickers and temporary tattoos for our next event.

oyster logo
New Oyster Project Logo

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Help Save a California Oyster Farm

The oyster industry is in an uproar as the National Park Service (NPS) has had an agenda of shutting down a California oyster farm that provides 40% of California’s oyster harvest. The NPS has searched out various lame reasons (noise? interfering with seals, etc.)  In a process that has been showed to be flagrantly biased and flawed. As you learn more- consider signing on to the petition. To do so click here sign the petition

Below is a section of Robert Rheault’s post to the shelfish community..

The Lonny’s permit is set to expire at the end of the month. The National Park Service seems intent on eliminating compatible and sustainable shellfish production in Drakes Estero.  Lawyers did a Freedom of Information Act request on the NPS and the group that was supposedly chosen to be an "independent" reviewer of the NPS allegations of seal disturbances.  It turns out that dozens of e-mails reveal that the review was hardly independent, but rather was a complete whitewash. The NPS fabricated the data and then when congress directed them to conduct a review, they hired a hack to whitewash the results. The e-mail trail makes fascinating reading and paints a damning picture of deceit and arrogance.

A 44 page Data Quality Act petition has been filed with the Inspector General and we expect the whole house of cards to come tumbling down.  Without seal impacts the farm impacts are negligible. The noise impacts were disproven (remember the Jet Ski sound data debacle?).  The rest of the impacts were classified in the NPS Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as "minor."  But we have to raise a big stink or the whole tawdry affair might just get swept under the rug to protect some highly placed bureaucrats.  The ECSGA board will discuss what action we expect to take in our next meeting.

Why should we care? - Because the allegations of environmental harm that the NPS has suggested occur in their Draft EIS will be used as a weapon in future lease applications across the country. Even though the impacts described in the DEIS were disputed and disproven by dozens of qualified scientists that submitted hundreds of pages of factual evidence to dispute the faulty NPS claims. Even though cameras set up to take pictures of the farm every minute for several years failed to detect a seal interaction.
Don't let the NPS throw our industry under the bus with false allegations of environmental damage!

Here is a plea for help from the family.

Dear Drakes Bay Oyster Farm Supporters!

It is decision time and we need your help!  Before the end of this month, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, will decide on the fate of the historic oyster farm located within the working landscapes of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

During this crucial period of time, two different filmmakers saw the need to tell a story about the controversy between Drakes Bay Oyster Company and the National Park Service. Please take a moment to view both of these thoughtful videos. You will not be disappointed.  Many of you will be surprised by the facts.

Video produced by Friends of Drakes Bay Oyster [18 min]:

Video produced by [3 min]:

You can make a difference. Please sign the petition to save this vital food and education resource!

To learn more and for up-to-the-minute info, please visit

Thank you for your support and please share this with friends!
The Drakes Bay Oyster Farm Family

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trip to State Shellfish Purification Plant Filled With Information

On Saturday a group from Mass Oyster enjoyed a fascinating tour of the Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant that is located on the very Northern Tip of Plum Island. It is one of only a few publicly run shellfish purification plants in the country. Diane Regan and Jeff Kennedy were veritable founts of information providing a soup-to-nuts discussion of clams in Massachusetts. We thank them for giving of their time so generously on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.
Oyster Restoration Group tour of shellfish purification plant
DMF Professionals Jeff Kennedy and Diane Regan at the plant

In the 1920’s there were significant problems with food safety in the U.S.. As the country became more crowded and industrialized waste treatment was still rudimentary and coastal water quality began to fall.  Steamer clams were being harvested from less pristine waters and shipped around the country. As they were traveling longer before consumption there was more time for them to go bad and for people to get sick. 

Recognizing that there was a problem Newburyport established a shellfish purification plant. The plant would later be taken over by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 

Later the Federal Government would begin regulation of shellfish through the FDA, the same organization that oversees milk quality.  The FDA publishes an extensive manual that contains inches of regulations on the harvest and handling of shellfish. Interestingly, the US regulations are much tighter than the European ones and the import of European Shellfish is basically taboo due to the health concerns.

The purification plant allows the harvest of clams from waters of marginal water quality, which otherwise would not be fit for consumption. Under a tightly regulated process, the clams are harvested from coastal areas, including Boston Harbor; they are locked in trucks that follow specified routes to the purification plant. The collection-trucking process is thoroughly documented to prevent diversion. 

Some of the tracking paperwork.

Apparently in the 1970’s diversion was going on, and clammers were selling a portion of the clams from marginal waters directly to bars and restaurants. A TV news reporter highlighted this in “Clam Scam” that created the impetus for establishing the current system.  
Clams undergoing the purification process.
In the plant, they take filtered salt water from two springs and soak the clams for a period of several days in several large tanks. While the clams are in the tanks the water is run through filtration lights to eliminate bacteria that are released from the clams.

The final rinse station.

Following treatment, the clams are rinsed off in a high power rinsing station. 

Diane Regan show a plate ready for counting.
After treatment a random sampling of the clams are taken, ground up and then a portion of the liquid is alloquotted onto agar plates. The bacterial count is taken using E.coli. E.coli is a surrogate for viruses that would make the clam eater sick. Unfortunately it is expensive and difficult to test for those viruses directly. So they test for E.coli. E coli is also the measure used for looking at water quality and where shellfish may be harvested.Assuming they pass all the tests, which they usually do, they are shipped out to market. 

Oyster restoration fan Greg Hanson in the lab
Greg Hanson counts the colonies of E.Coli.

The tour was scheduled for an hour, but took two as there were lots of questions and sidebars taking us off-topic into other areas of coastal ecology. 

One interesting observation from an oyster restoration perspective was that the regulation of shellfish in the Commonwealth has grown out of a food safety program. With this singular historic perspective, there has been little discussion of oysters as habitat for 100 other species. As a result MOP has been in the challenging position of asking our officials to look at the situation from a different perspective when we discuss oyster restoration. Increasingly, we seem to be finding more common ground, particularly when we think of oyster propagation zones.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Directions to Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant for Saturday November 10th Tour

The long-awaited for tour of the Newburyport Shellfish Purification Plant  is now here. The storms have passed, the clammers have been active and we will have a chance to take it all in.

The plant is at the North End of Plum Island.

We will meet at 10:30.

Here is the address and directions.

Newburyport Lab - Shellfish Purification Plant
84 82nd Street,
Plum Island Point,
Newburyport, MA 01950-4323

From US95 (north or south), use Exit 57. At the top of the ramp take MA-113 East/Storey Ave toward Newburyport. Continue on MA-113 East/High Street/MA-1A approximately 3.9 miles through Newburyport into Newbury. Go past the Newbury Town Hall to the next full set of stop lights. Turn left onto Rolf's Lane. At the end of Rolf's Lane/Ocean Ave, turn right onto the Plum Island Turnpike. Continue to follow Plum Island Turnpike for approximately 2 miles. Once onto Plum Island continue straight past Surfland Bait & Tackle and follow Northern Boulevard to the left for approximately 1.2 miles. At the lighthouse, go right, into a large parking lot. The Shellfish Purification Plant (shingled with white trim) is on the left. The Division of Marine Fisheries sign is on the building over the loading dock.

If you have not yet RSVPed- email and come join us.

And now another photo from the Wellfleet Oysterfest.

oyster costume
Oyster Costume

Friday, November 2, 2012

Red-Tide Threatens Gulf Oysters

This article from the Walll Street Journal discusses rough times for oyster farmers in the Gulf. It will be interesting to see if a Southern shortfall leads to higher revenues for North East oyster farmers. 

It's a tough time for fans of Gulf Coast oysters, as a prolonged swath of toxic algae in the Gulf of Mexico has delayed the start of the Texas oyster-harvesting season. The algae outbreak, known as a Red Tide because it can turn waters red or brown, is the most widespread on the Texas coast in more than a decade, and threatens to render many millions of oysters toxic. State officials will not say when or if they will allow the harvest—scheduled to start this past week—which last year yielded 5.2 million pounds of the bivalves.
The Red Tide is just the latest problem for the Gulf oyster industry, which supplies the key ingredient for many of the region's specialties, from the po' boy—a submarine-style sandwich often filled with fried shrimp and oysters—to seafood gumbo.

Texas Oysters
In Texas alone, oyster sales between 2006 and 2010 were worth anywhere from $8.8 million annually to $19.2 million to fishermen, while state economists say the industry's overall impact on the Texas economy is typically at least $25 million a year, according to an official at the Texas Parks & Wildlife.
"The season could be reopened but it's not likely," said Joe Jewell, a staff officer at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. About 1.5 million pounds of oysters came from the state last year, according to federal data.

Louisiana is allowing oystermen to ply their trade this year, but experts there are not expecting a big harvest, in part because of the aftereffects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and cleanup. Last year's 6.7-million-pound harvest was among the lowest in 60 years. "We expect a below-average season on the traditional public oyster seed grounds due to reduced oyster stock size," said Patrick Banks, a marine biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Scientists don't know what causes the Red Tide, which crops up every few years but is usually limited to the southernmost parts of Texas and dissipates after a few weeks. The current outbreak is now in its second month and covers a vast swath of the Texas coast, from South Padre Island to Galveston Bay. Marine biologists say this summer's drought in Texas has helped prolong the Red Tide by increasing salinity levels in the Gulf—conditions in which the algae thrive.

The shrimp, crab and fish industries should be largely unaffected, scientists said, as Red Tides typically don't kill enough fish to pose a serious threat to the Gulf's fish population, while the toxin produced by Red Tides doesn't accumulate in the edible portions of shrimp, fish and crabs. But, the oyster industry will bear the brunt of the outbreak, as oysters that ingest the algae can be toxic to humans, causing nausea and other stomach distress.

It can take months before Gulf oysters detoxify to safe levels, Texas officials said. "We need cold weather and rain and we're not getting that," said Meridith Byrd, a marine biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

In the meantime, oystermen in Texas are anxiously biding their time, as they catch up on dock work and other tasks that often take a back seat when the harvesting season begins. "Oysters are 100% of what I sell," said Tony Jurisich, with U.S. Sea Products Inc. in Texas City, Texas. "If the bays are closed, I don't have any income." Seafood restaurant owners say they are scrambling to find oysters as supply shortages have caused prices to go up by 10% to 30%—increases the owners say they so far are not passing on to customers.
"It's a mess," said Herb Story, the owner of S.& D. Oyster Company, a Dallas restaurant that dishes up as many 20,000 oysters weekly. So far, he said, he has been able to keep customers happy by casting a wide net for oysters in Florida, Alabama and other Gulf Coast states. But for those who want Lone Star oysters, he said, "You just have to throw up your hands and say we are subject to the effects of Mother Nature."