The Frontal Cortex

More Oysters

I always assumed that all aquaculture was created equal. Fish farms produced massive algae blooms and fecal waste, polluted the coast and corrupted wild fish stock. (Of course, I’m still not sure that aquaculture isn’t preferable to massive overfishing of the Cod-in-Newfoundland variety. What do you think?) Anyways, it never occurred to me that some types of aquaculture are actually good for the environment. A recent NY Times op-ed argued that what our polluted waterways – like the Chesapeake bay – really need is more oyster farms:

Aquaculture has a bad name. We picture fish farms with tons of feed being dumped into the water, creating the same algae-promoting conditions as pollution from cities and terrestrial farms. But the situation is reversed with oyster farms, because oysters are little filters. The farms provide far more water-cleaning benefits than all the government programs put together, don’t cost taxpayers a cent, and support coastal economies. They also make better oysters: a farmed oyster is plumper, sweeter and prettier than its wild cousin.

While I wouldn’t want to consume the first batch of oysters from the Chesapeake – don’t filter feeders concentrate pollution? – reintroducing an important part of the ecosystem in the form aquaculture seems like a reasonably good idea. John Smith, in 1608, famously noted that oysters lay on the bottom of the Chesapeake “as thick as stones”. As a huge fan of raw oysters, I eagerly await their embrace by the environmental movement.


  1. #1 jebyrnes
    April 11, 2007

    Interesting, at this year’s Benthic Ecology Meetings, there were a few talks on the collateral effects of shellfish aquaculture. There’s been a lot written on mussels effecting the surrounding benthos (they poop out a lot of pseudofeces- which is just a great word), but the talks I saw were also about the subsidies that aquaculture supplies by putting out lots of shellfish to be eaten by surrounding predators. So, they can be a real boon to the whole food web. One challenge the author does not point out, however, is that there is a LOT of oyster disease going around in the Chesapeake, largely due to some failed attempts at culturing non-native oysters in the past. For whatever reason Crassostrea virginica is pretty suceptible to these diseases, so, there’s a significant hump that would have to be overcome for farming to work. That said, it could be done, but would require some serious initial investment.

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