Tiny culprit wages war on oysters
filter best hope for stopping bacteria that kill larvae
A tiny microbe is threatening the future of the Pacific Coast's vibrant oyster industry.
The bacterium, Vibrio tubiashii, is killing billions of young oyster larvae - the "seeds" that grow into the popular West
Coast oysters so highly prized by domestic and overseas customers.
The problem is widespread. The tiny bacteria are killing oyster and geoduck larvae in every commercial shellfish hatchery
on the West Coast, leaving shellfish growers in Washington, Oregon and California scrambling to find larvae stock for the
2008 growing season.
Late last summer, the situation got so bad that Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on Netarts Bay in Oregon - one of the
largest hatcheries on the West Coast -was forced to shut down.
The hatchery is currently open, but only partially.
Co-owner Mark Wiegardt said the hatchery usually produces many billions of oyster larvae each year. But it couldn't produce
any at all when the bacteria exploded in numbers at the hatchery in August.
"It was like living in a nightmare," Wiegardt said in a June 9 interview with Capital Press.
At Taylor Shellfish Farm's hatchery on Dabob Bay on the Hood Canal in Washington, production is only 10 to 20 percent of
"They're stressed," said hatchery manager Ed Jones, describing the larvae. "We're trying to figure it out."
The bacteria are also suspected of causing the disappearance of recent generations of wild oysters from Willapa Bay on
the southern Washington coast.
"Not having the seed is having a big effect on our industry," said Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor Shellfish. "There might
not be enough marketable oysters to sell in the next year or so."
Oysters typically take from 18 months to 4 years to grow before they're harvested.
The dire situation has farmers in Washington, Oregon and California laying off staff due to the seed shortages.
Dewey said commercial shellfish hatchers on the West Coast began to be severely impacted with outbreaks of the bacteria
in 2006 and 2007.