Thursday, July 25, 2013

Oyster Restoration in Oregon

This article on restoration of the Olympia Oyster ran in the Oregonian.

NETARTS -- Stand at the edge of Netarts Bay as the tide ebbs and you might spot evidence of a comeback that's pleasing not only conservationists but also Oregon's passionate culinary crowd.
There in the muck, the tiny, tangy Olympia oyster -- the only oyster native to the West Coast and a species harvested nearly to extinction more than a century ago -- is slowly repopulating.
GS.11OYSTR21-02.jpgView full size
Same goes in Yaquina and Coos bays, in Washington's Puget Sound and in a handful of California bays, where restoration efforts similar to that in Netarts make headway.

If those projects enjoy the sort of success ecologist Dick Vander Schaaf and his colleagues have in Tillamook County, many of the West's bays and estuaries could grow cleaner and healthier, thanks to the filtering work oysters perform and the habitat they provide other species.
Plus, those who relish oysters' heady flavor but who seldom spot the Olympia variety on restaurant menus may have more opportunities to sample the rare, silver dollar-sized delicacy.

olympia oyster cultch
Olympia Oyster Cultch

Ethan Powell, chef and partner in Northeast Portland's EaT: An Oyster Bar and The Parish in the Pearl District, understands one reason why Olys, as Olympias are nicknamed, were wiped out. He says they deliver the bliss factor some oyster aficionados seek -- an earthy flavor with hints of the wild mushrooms growing in coastal forests and finally, a coppery finish. Native Americans ate Olys long before Europeans made their way west. But when miners struck gold in California in the mid-1800s, the oyster rush was on. As Vander Schaaf says, "They came to San Francisco, and it was all wine, women, song and oysters."

Forty-niners devoured the mollusks in soups, stews, pies, patties or wrapped in the omelet known as a Hangtown Fry. They ate them roasted, fried or bathed in cream. Of course, they slurped them down raw, too, chasing Olys with beer or bubbly. It takes the meat of an estimated 2,000 Olympia oysters to fill a gallon jug, and during those frantic Gold Rush days suppliers couldn't pluck and shuck them fast enough.

Olympia oyster restoration
Olympia oyster shells

As San Francisco Bay's supply ran slim, industrious shellfishermen loaded schooners with hundreds of thousands of pounds of Olympias in the Northwest and sailed them down the coast. Within a few decades, Oly beds in Oregon and Washington were wiped out, too. According to the Nature Conservancy, the annual harvest of Olys in Washington reached 130,000 bushels by the 1890s but by 1910, it declined to 16,000 bushels a year.

A study published last year in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a scientific journal, dubbed the species "functionally extinct." While Olympias persisted in some estuaries, the habitat they require to thrive -- the oyster beds and shell reefs that once covered thousands of acres in western waters -- was gone.

Restoration efforts, though, already were under way. And while most oysters commercially grown today in the Northwest are native to Japan, a few farmers had started growing and selling the lone native species, too.

That makes Powell, the Portland chef who espouses their virtues, a happy fellow. He buys around 500 dozen oysters a week, including about 20 dozen Olympias grown in Yaquina Bay.
"They don't live long out of the water," he says, "so they're super fresh ... full of juice, just a fantastic oyster."

In his 30 years with the Nature Conservancy, Vander Schaaf, 61, has done everything from survey Oregon silverspot butterflies at Cascade Head to help the nonprofit identify terrestrial and marine natural areas worth preserving. "Estuaries," he says, "are forgotten habitats."

He knew about efforts to bolster remnant Olympia oyster populations in Puget Sound. So, when Alan Trimble, a University of Washington biologist, suggested Netarts Bay was ripe for a similar project, Vander Schaaf jumped at the chance.

The bay, about five miles southwest of Tillamook, seemed the perfect spot. Long and shallow, it covers less than four square miles. No major rivers feed it, so it flushes nearly dry twice a day at low tide -- a bonus for oysters. It wasn't nearly as degraded by development or pollution as other estuaries that once held Olys. Eelgrass, which oysters like, grows in the bay. Toward the south end, more than 60 acres of tidal flats already were set aside by the state as a shellfish reserve off-limits to harvesting.
Plus, the conservancy could learn from about a dozen small commercial oyster farmers working outside the reserve; recreational oyster harvesting is prohibited in Oregon.

The operators of Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery across the street from Netarts Bay volunteered to help, and in 2005 Vander Schaaf and others started lugging heavy mesh bags filled with empty, clean Pacific oyster shells onto the tidal flats, building a reef. The shells of the larger, non-native Pacifics would serve, essentially, as condominiums for Olys. Using the hatchery's equipment and expertise, the Nature Conservancy started growing oysters.

Each spring, a few buckets full of mature oysters were dumped into huge tanks in the hatchery's humid, barn-like buildings, where roaring pumps keep water circulating around the clock.
The adult Olys produce larvae, which hatchery workers collect and feed until they're about as big as a grain of sand and ready to settle, or attach themselves for life to some hard substrate -- Pacific oyster shells, in this case.

Workers place bags of shell in the tanks and the larvae grab hold. A few days later, they deliver the bags to the bay, adding to the man-made shell reef.

Olys grow slowly. Unlike Pacifics, which reach market size of about 4 inches in 18 to 30 months, Olympias take at least three years to get to be the size of a quarter. At their biggest, the razor-sharp shells are only 1 1/2 to 2 inches across.

What Vander Schaaf and colleagues wanted to see was the Olys reproducing on their own in the bay, a process called natural recruitment.

Last year, for the first time, they did, spotting many examples of young oysters about the size of a little fingernail, indicating they were maybe a year old. Some showed up on man-made materials in the bay and on Pacific oysters grown on leased land outside the shellfish reserve, so they knew they weren't hatchery-grown.

Vander Schaaf will continue to survey the more than 1.5 million Olympia oysters growing there and if they continue to reproduce on their own, he expects to let nature take its course.

Similar small success stories unfold farther down the coast.
Yaquina Bay once held such a bountiful Olympia supply it contributed to the establishment of Newport and the burg upriver, Oysterville. The species was sometimes referred to as the Yaquina oyster.

While huge harvests led to a steep decline, Olys never went extinct in Yaquina Bay. Newport-based Oregon Oyster Farms workers routinely find them attached to their cultured Pacific oyster shells.
In Coos Bay, shell deposits indicate Olys once were abundant. Scientists believe the species disappeared there before Europeans arrived; the oysters likely were buried in sediment resulting from wildfires, earthquakes or tsunamis.

Researchers aren't certain but believe Olys may have been reintroduced inadvertently as hitchhikers aboard the Pacific variety, which oystermen brought to Coos Bay in the 1940s.

During a salt marsh restoration project in Coos Bay's South Slough in the early 1990s, Steve Rumrill began thinking about the benefits of bolstering the population in the bay, much of which had been diked for agriculture by early settlers. Changing the landscape that way pushed out oysters, degrading the ecosystem.

He knew the damage done Elsewhere when oysters were lost: Chesapeake Bay's oyster population, once legendary, is less than 1 percent of what it once was, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That bay's water quality suffered dramatically as the bivalves were wiped out by overharvesting, pollution and other factors.

Oysters improve water quality by filtering their food -- phytoplankton, or free-swimming algae -- from the water. They process up to 25 gallons of ocean water each day, according to the Nature Conservancy.

NOAA offered Rumrill, shellfish program leader for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others along the West Coast grants to get native oyster restoration efforts started. He says perhaps 80 to 100 people work on them now from Washington to California.

"We're being successful," Rumrill says. "Populations are establishing. Self-recruitment is beginning to happen. We feel good about that." Success, though, is moderate. Unlike in the old days, he says, "we don't have massive beds of native Olympias along the shoreline here."

Given their slow growth and small size, the species will likely never again be a big part of the commercial oyster market. For those who fancy them, though, they'll fill a niche.

James Beard, the late Portland-born king of the kitchen, wrote that an oyster lover could consume at least 250 Olys in a sitting, though shucking them was a tedious job. Apparently, he thought it worth the trouble, calling oysters "one of the supreme delights that nature has bestowed on man... Oysters lead to discussion, to contemplation, and to sensual delight. There is nothing quite like them."

Vander Schaaf, the ecologist who brought the little gems back to Netarts Bay agrees they're a treat.
"I eat them raw," he says, "but only for research purposes."

- Katy Muldoon

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Value of Oyster Shell- Virginia is Dredging River Bottom For It.

Mass Oyster team members are working hard to grow our oyster shell recycling program and we are enjoying seeing them taking off in other areas including Wellfleet and Martha's Vineyard.  It is interesting to see how other state's are going to great lengths to obtain shell; literally spending millions of dollars to access supply and support their coastal ecosystems. Here is a piece on Virginia.
Jim Wesson on shell dredging
7:42 p.m. EDT, July 12, 2013

A superstructure some 70 feet high is anchored in the James River across from King's Mill, harvesting barge after barge of fossilized oyster shells.The shells have been buried in sediment for 10,000 years, ever since the planet began to warm after the last Ice Age.

Now a billion of them are being dredged up over the next month, brought to the surface, washed and planted in deteriorating reefs to try to rebuild some of the best oyster rock sites in Virginia. It's the only such operation in the world, officials say.
"It's remarkable that we have the technology to be able to harvest these fossil shells from the bottom of the James and transport them to recreate a new layer of shell for new oysters to grow," said Doug Domenech, observing the operation Monday.

 Domenech is theVirginia's secretary of natural resources and an advocate of state efforts to replenish and rebuild the state's diminished oyster population and fishing industry. He was invited to watch the shell dredging by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, or VMRC, from the deck of the agency's 43-foot custom deadrise, a low-slung vessel favored by oystermen.
'Gold rush for shell'

Virginia has been planting oyster shell since the 1920s, said VMRC's oyster expert, Jim Wesson. Oysters were once so plentiful in Hampton Roads that they supported a thriving fishery, their reefs so massive they were a hazard to river vessels.

Filter-feeding oysters also helped clean the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries – a single oyster is capable of purging 50 gallons of water a day.But overfishing and invasion by two parasitic diseases deadly to oysters decimated the population and the fishing industry.The state's efforts to restore the stock and the fishery include restricting harvests and planting empty shell on state-owned public oyster grounds to give baby oysters, or spat, a hard substrate to attach to so they can survive and grow.

Oystermen harvest spat-on-shell from public grounds and relocate them to privately leased grounds, where they're tended until they grow to market size, typically within three years.
Shell-planting has made oyster shells a hot commodity — "There's a gold rush for shell," said Wesson.

For years, the state has purchased empty shell from shucking houses, but most such operations are small and too far away — chiefly in the Northern Neck — for cost-effective transport to the James.
Years ago, oystermen prospecting for old buried shell in the James found a cache of about 22 acres on the James City County side of the shipping lane, said Wesson.

Since 2000, the state has hired a private company to dredge that site as funding allowed, but funds have been spotty, with annual appropriations by the General Assembly ranging from zero to $1.3 million. This year, legislators appropriated a record $2 million, launching what state officials say is the largest replenishment effort in Virginia history.

'Our nest egg'
The massive hydraulic dredge superstructure sits in water 6- to 12-feet deep and bores into the river bottom with a corkscrew-like device. Wesson likens it to mining for pea gravel. Water shoots the shells up into the superstructure and onto conveyor belts, where they're washed, sorted by sieve into large and small sizes, and loaded onto one of two barges on either side of the structure. Sediment is returned to the river bottom.The smaller shell will be used to build the reef base, with the larger pieces placed on top and around the border. Oysters spawn in summer, so the new shell will soon be fresh habitat for new spat.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shellfish Job in Dleware

Special Employment Announcement
Environmental Scientist III (Contractual)
Agency: Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control/Division of Fish and Wildlife

Starting Salary: $44,094; Benefits provided

Last Date to Apply:  July 29, 2013

Position Description:

This Environmental Scientist III position will be responsible for overseeing shellfish aquaculture in Rehoboth, Indian River, and Little Assawoman Bays. Responsibilities include assisting in drafting the regulations that will specify the locations and methods for shellfish aquaculture, overseeing public hearings on the proposed regulations, investigating the sites that will be leased for shellfish aquaculture, and administering the leasing of shellfish aquaculture sites. This position will also analyze benthic samples from potential lease sites and write reports. This position is funded for one year with longer-term funding anticipated, but not guaranteed

    1. Must possess a Bachelors degree in the biological sciences
    2. Experience in fisheries policy and regulation writing preferred
    3. Background in bivalve shellfish biology preferred
    4. Must possess a driver’s license

Applicants must complete a Kent County Conservation District application form at the following link. Applicants are encouraged to also submit resumes and other documents that support their application.Applications must be received or postmarked by 11:59 PM of the last date to apply. Please send the applications by email or mail to:
Ms. Kim StanglDelaware Division of Fish and Wildlife89 Kings HighwayDover, DE 19901

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mass Oyster Intern in Wellfleet- Meet Jesse Bean

Mass Oyster is sponsoring an intern who is working on the oyster propagation zone in Wellfleet. Jesse is finishing his Bachelor's Degree in Environmental, Earth and Ocean Science at UMass Boston. He describes his motivation for being involved.  "As a native, born and raised, Cape Codder I have enjoyed the beauty all around most of my life and feel that it is time to do something to give back and help keep this place alive for future generations.

Jesse Bean Intern Mass Oyster Project Photo
In this photo Jesse is counting the many other creatures  who live among the oysters; increasing the biomass and enhancing biodiversity.
In this photo Jesse is counting the many other creatures  who live among the oysters; increasing the biomass and enhancing biodiversity.
Jesse began by earning my Associates Degree in Environmental Studies from Cape Cod Community College before transferring to UMass Boston.   He goes on to describe his experience. "As a student at UMass I was lucky to have recently participated in the school’s inaugural Living Lab Semester on Nantucket, where students immersed themselves in real-world fieldwork, addressing important issues facing the island community.  My independent study looked at primary productivity in salt marsh creeks by measuring specific pigments from phytoplankton(top primary producers) used during photosynthesis.    This summer, I will be working on the Wellfleet Project as well as a benthic macroinvertebrate biomonitoring(collecting bugs from streams) in the Charles River Watershed.  These bugs are a good way to assess the water quality within the watershed.  After completing my degree program at UMass I am planning on attending graduate school to earn my Master’s in either biology, ecology or water quality."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vibrio and Oysters Regualtory Actions Keeping The Food Safer to Eat Than Ever

There has been considerable discussion in the news about vibrio and oysters as the FDA is asking oyster producers to cool oysters more rapidly after harvest. This newly implemented regulation is putting strains on small Massachusetts oyster growers as it requires ice and cooling infrastructure.

For Northern oyster growers Vibrio has not been a problem historically as the bacteria is less common in cold waters. Nonetheless in the FDA's quest to ensure that our food is safe they are seeking to harmonize the rules on a national basis.

Vibrio is a naturally occurring bacteria that is more common in warm waters that are brackish and non-moving. Here is the descriptor from Wikipedia.

Vibrio vulnificus is a species of Gram-negative, motile, curved, rod-shaped bacteria of the genus Vibrio. Present in marine environments such as estuaries, brackish ponds, or coastal areas,

V. vulnificus is related to V. cholerae, the causative agent of cholera.[1Vibrio vulnificus causes an infection often incurred after eating seafood, especially raw or undercooked oysters. V. vulnificus does not alter the appearance, taste, or odor of oysters.[5] The bacteria can also enter the body through open wounds when swimming or wading in infected waters,[2] or via puncture wounds from the spines of fish such as tilapia.

Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a blistering dermatitis that is sometimes mistaken for pemphigus or pemphigoid.

V. vulnificus is eighty times more likely to spread into the bloodstream in people with compromised immune systems, especially those with chronic liver disease. When this happens, severe symptoms including blistering skin lesions, septic shock, and even death can occur.[6][7] This severe infection may occur regardless of whether the infection began via contaminated food or via an open wound.[7]

While the bacteria does not have a large presence in the North it is not to be taken lightly. Its significant presence in Gulf coastal waters made for a sad story for a gentleman in Louisiana.

GRAND ISLE, La. (CBS Houston) — A Louisiana man died after contracting flesh-eating bacteria while fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Town Talk reports the bacteria known as Vibria vulnificus – which is found in warm seawater – seawater – killed the 83-year-old man after his open wound got infected when water splashed on him during a fishing trip.

“It thrives in warm water,” Dr. Tina Stefanski of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told KATC-TV. “So, you can imagine in the summer months we see an increased number of this type of bacteria in warm salt water.”The department is warning swimmers and beach-goers to be careful in the warm water, especially ones with open wounds.
“We certainly do not mean to discourage people from enjoying water activities, but we want them to understand the potential risks involved,” Department Secretary Kathy Kliebert told The Town Talk. “DHH works with other state and local partners to monitor and test beach water to inform residents of the water quality and we hope residents will heed posted beach advisories when they see them.”

Three others swimming in the Louisiana Gulf coast were sickened from the bacteria.

Sheila Lord, who is on vacation, is not tempted to get into the water.“I’m a little bit nervous about it to be honest,” Lord told KATC. “You know you just don’t want to get sick. I’m on vacation. It would be horrible if I had to go back home with something.”

There is risk in anything and people who are immunocompromised are advised not to eat raw shellfish as Jeff Kennedy of Mass DMF aptly pointed out in our tour of the Plum Island Shellfish Depuration Plant.  But, that organization  is working hard to ensure that this delicious food is as safe as it possibly can be.