As I eagerly prepare my Thanksgiving oyster stuffing to cap off Virginia Oyster Month, I am particularly thankful for the hardworking men and women who raise my oysters. Virginia is now the East Coast leader for shellfish production, and that’s because of a persevering industry.
Playing an essential, behind-the-scenes, role are the shellfish hatchery facility managers located all around the Chesapeake Bay. These innovators are part veterinarian, part scientist, and part parent who rear oyster larvae, or “seed,” that oyster growers buy to cultivate on their farms in Virginia and all over the East Coast.
Hatchery managers are committed to delivering a consistent product supply. Yet, their efforts alone are not enough to successfully raise oysters-- they need healthy waters for the bivalves to grow. As Mike Congrove, Hatchery Manager of Oyster Seed Holdings in Grimstead, VA puts it, “Few people are more concerned about water quality than hatcheries because we really rely on it for optimal oyster health and survival.” Hatcheries have benefited from Virginia’s sparkling waters to raise and protect the oysters in their earliest, most vulnerable life stages.
In 2013, however, Virginia hatcheries began suffering unexplained, intermittent production issues that amounted to thousands of dollars in losses.
Hatchery managers collaborated with scientists to determine the cause leading many of these managers to wonder whether “ocean acidification” was the problem. Ocean acidification is a change in water chemistry of the ocean, coasts and rivers that stems from too much carbon dioxide in the water.
Virginia’s shellfish-growing water spans the salty Atlantic Ocean, fresh rivers and streams draining several states, and everything between.
While the industry is still learning how acidification is playing out in Virginia Waters (see video), the importance of the collaboration between researchers and hatcheries to monitor it cannot be understated. Additionally, federal lawmakers are now joining private industry and scientists to support studying and protecting Virginia’s water quality and the businesses and people who rely on it. Representative Don Beyer (VA-8th) recently cosponsored legislation to examine the vulnerability of coastal communities to ocean acidification.
By supporting growers and hatcheries, not only are we sustaining the investments they make into monitoring and scientific research, but also we are giving thanks for their efforts to protect a precious natural resource – our water.
We are so fortunate to have such dedicated “watchers of the water” in our own backyard and can express our thankfulness by eating more oysters farmed here in Virginia.
Special thanks to our contributing writer, Ryan Ono, Program Manager for the Ocean Acidification Program at Ocean Conservancy, a national environmental non-profit organization based in Washington, DC.
Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail Calendar of Events regularly for listings of upcoming activities and events.