Microbe Worries West Coast Oyster Growers


SeafoodSource staff

Published on
June 9, 2008

A microbe that thrives in warm ocean water is threatening the Pacific Northwest oyster supply, having already killed billions of young larvae.

The bacterium, Vibrio tubiashii, is related to another species that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. This one doesn't affect people when they consume infected oysters, but instead kills shellfish in their larval stage before they latch onto rocks to grow.

A surge of the microbe last summer shut down Whiskey Creek Hatchery in Netarts Bay, Ore., one of the largest shellfish hatcheries on the West Coast that supplies larvae to about 70 oyster growers.

The microbe also is the likely culprit in the disappearance of recent generations of wild oysters from Willapa Bay in southern Washington.

"We're in a state of panic," said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association in Olympia, Wash., told the Oregonian. "There is no other word for it."

Scientists are devising filters that can strain the lethal bacterium out of water flowing through hatcheries.

"It's going to have some major effects on the industry in the next year or so," said Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton, Wash., which hatches and grows oysters in Washington's Hood Canal. "There's not going to be enough marketable oysters to sell."

Geoducks are also at risk; clams and mussels seem less vulnerable, though fisheries officials have noticed a lack of young razor clams along some areas of the coast.

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