Thursday, September 12, 2013

The rise and decline and possible rise again of the Olympia oyster

The history of the Olympia oyster -- as talismanic center of a Puget Sound home grown industry -- is one of the most fascinating stories around here.

It is literally an industry and species wiped out because of industrial pollution which itself doesn't exist because of laws and social concerns that didn't come about until decades later.

For decades dozens of small companies picked and packed these little native oysters and shipped them across the world. People like E.N. Steele, who wrote the book on the Olympia, dedicated large parts of their lives to the industry and the oyster.

The oyster growers feel that the decline has been caused by pulp mill waste from the mill at Shelton.

In conclusion, I must say that The Olympia Oyster industry is very sick. In fact it is, at this writing, on its death bed, unless the knife that is stabbing at its heart can be removed. Those who love the Olympia Oyster, and who grew it still have hope. In nature there is always survival; no such thing as extermination of species by nature. But trade waste is man-produced poison. There must also be progress in industry. But man has been given intelligence to find ways and means to prevent the trade waste from destroying the natural resources so that all may survive and live together.

But, because of pollution from another home grown industry (timber), the Olympia lost its place to the immigrant Pacific oyster. While oystermen were disturbed to see that pollution was taking away the Olympia, they coolly and calmly replaced it with the more hardy Pacific.

But, now, because of impacts of ocean acidification, the tables might be turning on the Pacific. The chemistry of the oceans are slowly changing because we pollute too much. And, because of the way Pacific oysters reproduce, they're apparently at a disadvantage to the Olympias.

From the The World in Coos Bay:
“The short answer is that the native Olympia oysters may be doing OK and recovering in Coos Bay despite ocean acidification,” he said.

Rumrill, currently the director of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish monitoring program, was instrumental in Olympia oyster recovery efforts at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Charleston.

“It may be that the shallow parts of Coos Bay may be able to act sort of as a buffer,” he said.
Oregon State University Professor George Waldbusser said said difference in survivability likely lies in the species’ reproductive practices.

“Olympias are brooders,” he said, referring to the species’ trait of carrying eggs in an internal chamber for several weeks after fertilization.

Pacific oysters, on the other hand, are broadcast spawners, meaning their eggs are fertilized and develop in open water.

Waldbusser said the native species’ reproductive period is on the edge of the coast’s seasonal upwelling cycle, when deep ocean currents force cold water to the surface.

Upwelling is believed to contribute to the acidification process by bringing oxygen-deprived, CO2-rich acidic water to the ocean’s surface.
 We don't dump timber production waste directly into Puget Sound the way we used to. We did it for long enough to put Olympias on their heals and the oyster world moved on to Pacific oysters.

Eventually our laws caught up to timber waste, but it was too late for Olympias. It would be supremely ironic that Olympias would stage a comeback on Pacific oysters because our laws couldn't catch up with ocean acidification.

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