June 23, 2008: Bacterium Blues

Oyster World

A couple of weeks ago The Oregonian broke a story about how the bacterium Vibrio tubiashii (evil cousin of the nefarious Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which we'll talk about later) is wreaking havoc with the oyster industry. V. tubiashii attacks and kills oyster larvae, which is a problem for both oysters and the animals that eat them. According to The Oregonian, scientists think the bloom might be related to the "dead zones" off of the Oregon and Washington coasts. The Oregonian reports that there was also a V. tubiashii outbreak in 1998, likely caused by El Nino. The article quoted several people who said that this bacteria spelled doom and gloom for both the oyster industry and the oceanic food chain. And that's what has us here at Hama Hama scratching our heads. We may just be dumb farmers, but this much is true: 1998 was the year of the most epic natural set of wild oysters in living memory. People around here still speak with reverence about "the set of 98." If you ate Hood Canal oysters between 2001 and 2008, the oyster was probably born in 1998. So clearly Oregon's V. tubiashii outbreak of 1998 didn't affect wild oysters in Hood Canal, even though the Canal got warm enough to support a massive natural set. From where we sit, newspaper titles like "Northwest shellfish industry in panic over die-off of oysters" seem hyperbolic. According to the scientists interviewed in The Oregonian, though, the current V. tubiashii outbreak will be worse than in 1998. Maybe we should be scared silly??? Although their headline is equally provocative, The Kitsap Sun actually had a less hysterical take on the situation, probably because they spent more time talking with oyster growers in Washington, where the problem isn't as severe. All in all, it's even more proof that the oceans are going wacko.

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