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The End of Oysters?



This is depressing news for we oyster lovers. In short, climate change is creating ocean acidification which will decimate oyster beds. What’s more, we know it is already happening but the carbon currently affecting oyster beds today was spewed fifty years ago, meaning that what is happening today won’t be fully felt for another 50 years.

Ocean acidification is bound to get worse, before it gets better

It takes a few decades for all this acidic water to make it to the surface. That means the oyster die-offs we’re seeing now at hatcheries across the Pacific Northwest are being caused by carbon absorbed into the ocean at least four or five decades ago, when greenhouse gases levels were significantly lower. “The worst part is that even if I could push a button right now which would stop all CO2 emissions today, for the next 50 years things are going to get worse before they start improving,” Eudeline says. There are record levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, which means the worst might be yet to come for producers like Taylor Shellfish.

Shellfish operations could move inland, but be prepared to drop almost $20 on an oyster

If acidity levels continue to soar, operations like Taylor Shellfish could theoretically move their operations completely inland and harvest oysters in a lab. But the production costs would get stupid high. “Instead of paying $10 a dozen, you’re going to pay $200 a dozen,” Eudeline says. “That’s just the cost of what it would take to grow an adult oyster on a land-based system where you can control all the water quality.” Plus, growing oysters on land just isn’t, well, natural. Says Eudeline: “We rely 99.9 percent on nature to do the job. If nature cannot do the job anymore, that means there will be a decrease [in oysters] — there is no doubt.”

Eat your bivalves today because your children probably won’t know what they taste like.

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  • shah8

    On the plus side, fewer people sick from bad oysters!

    • Steve LaBonne

      Stopped eating raw oysters quite a while ago (and boy do I miss them!) Ever more polluted water + filter feeder = bad idea.

      • Warren Terra

        I heard a story just last week about the oyster population recovering in New York Harbor, precisely because you are wrong – we don’t, for the most part, have “ever more polluted water”. Here in the US, we’ve got better water quality than we’ve had in a generation, thanks to a combination of improved regulation and offshoring our polluting industries to places that have no regulation to speak of.

        This is all aside from [CO2] and ocean acidification – we’re on track to have cleaner but acidified coastal waters, and so those increases in the New York Harbor oyster population will not be sustained. But, still, you’re wrong to think pollution, as such, is getting worse, at least here at home.

        • I’d guess it’s more than a generation. Could be a century and a half or longer depending on where you are.

    • catclub

      Obligatory Roy Blunt poem:

      Sometimes I like to eat an oyster.
      Nothing slicker, nothing moister.

      • rea

        Part of obligatory oyster poem:

        “The time has come,” the Walrus said,
        “To talk of many things:
        Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
        Of cabbages–and kings–
        And why the sea is boiling hot–
        And whether pigs have wings.”

        “But wait a bit,” the Oysters cried,
        “Before we have our chat;
        For some of us are out of breath,
        And all of us are fat!”
        “No hurry!” said the Carpenter.
        They thanked him much for that.

        “A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
        “Is what we chiefly need:
        Pepper and vinegar besides
        Are very good indeed–
        Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
        We can begin to feed.”

        “But not on us!” the Oysters cried,
        Turning a little blue.
        “After such kindness, that would be
        A dismal thing to do!”
        “The night is fine,” the Walrus said.
        “Do you admire the view?

        “It was so kind of you to come!
        And you are very nice!”
        The Carpenter said nothing but
        “Cut us another slice:
        I wish you were not quite so deaf–
        I’ve had to ask you twice!”

        “It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
        “To play them such a trick,
        After we’ve brought them out so far,
        And made them trot so quick!”
        The Carpenter said nothing but
        “The butter’s spread too thick!”

        “I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
        “I deeply sympathize.”
        With sobs and tears he sorted out
        Those of the largest size,
        Holding his pocket-handkerchief
        Before his streaming eyes.

        “O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
        “You’ve had a pleasant run!
        Shall we be trotting home again?’
        But answer came there none–
        And this was scarcely odd, because
        They’d eaten every one.

      • Frank Wilhoit

        No fair giving Roy’s first two lines but not his last two:

        I think I’ll have my oysters fried;
        That way, I know my oysters died.

        • rhino


          Extra small oysters, tossed in potato flour, dipped in egg wash, rolled in panko. Deep fry for about 90 seconds, until they’re hot in the Center but not fully cooked.

          Toast a freshly baked sliced kaiser roll, spread thickly with very spicy chili mayonnaise, crunchy iceberg lettuce and if possible a perfectly ripe slice of tomato. Spread a layer of those perfect little fried oysters. Gently squish sandwich just till the oysters breading cracks and spills the juices out to soak into the roll. Eat as fast as possible, pausing only for sips of a pleasant cream ale.

          Damn I need to get to an ocean.

  • Gwen

    Man oh man does this tick me off.

    Without abundant oysters, Gulf Coast parrot-head types like myself are just drunk white people in flower-print shirts.

    These global-warming deniers are destroying my culture.

    Maybe if I made the not-entirely-riduclous claim that shellfish was my religion, I could get the government to do something about this?

    • Gwen

      Also, isn’t global warming supposed to make the oceans more anoxic? The (mostly fertilizer-related (dead zone) off of Texas and Louisiana already has made it harder to get good shrimp.

      • giovanni da procida

        It depends, but speaking pedantically, anoxic means devoid of oxygen, or in the micromole per liter range, making it hard for waters to get more anoxic. I’ve seen studies suggesting that global warming will decrease the dissolved oxygen concentration of the ocean by between 4 to 7% over the next century.

        For deep ocean hypoxia or anoxia, the time scale is more like 2000 to 4000 years.

        • Gwen

          Well good, at least I’ll be dead by then.

          Yes, I am racist against FuturePeople.

          • Warren Terra

            the unincorporated are people too, my friends.

            • What about LLPs?

              • Warren Terra

                I was referring to human souls not yet possessing bodies, not to legal fictions masquerading as humans. I thought I was being clever …

  • Ahenobarbus

    I could live without oysters myself, but this will mean the end of oyster stout!

  • bekabot

    Aww, just make ’em out of soy. Soy-sters!!

    • And put ketchup on ’em!

    • Richard Hershberger

      Or make them from people: Soyster Green.

  • Davis

    Giving up the delicacy is not even the worst part. In the Chesapeake Bay, oysters play an important function by filtering the water, removing algae & nitrogen.

    There is (or used to be) a restaurant on the Eastern Shore that, every Wednesday, features all-you-can eat oysters any style for $15. Must be more now.

    • There are plenty of places here that still have buck-a-shuck specials.

      • Denverite

        We go to this place:


        It has a $1.75 special on one type of oyster, and a $1.25 happy hour special. The only problem is I like to make my own sauce and my wife gets embarrassed when I ask for ketchup (FU ERIK), horseradish, worcestershire, fresh lemon, gumbo file, and fresh cracked pepper.

        • Ketchup on oysters? You should not be allowed to eat them.

          I realize you are making your own cocktail sauce but that’s an abomination in itself on oysters. Just squeeze a little of that lemon.

          • Denverite

            I also eat them on crackers. The sauces is about equal parts ketchup and horse radish, with the rest to taste.

            (This is how we eat them where I grew up, possibly because the quality of the gulf/bayou oysters isn’t always the best.)

          • rea

            “A loaf of bread,” the Walrus said,
            “Is what we chiefly need:
            Pepper and vinegar besides
            Are very good indeed

            • Lee Rudolph

              If a man who ‘Oysters!’ cries
              Cry not when his father dies,
              ‘Tis a sign that he would rather
              Have an oyster than a father.

          • Gwen

            ketchup? da fuq?


            horseradish, maybe a dabble of cocktail sauce, please.

            • Denverite

              Mixing a sauce with equal parts ketchup and horseradish pretty much is “ketchup and a dabble of cocktail sauce.”

            • Cocktail sauce usually has ketchup as its base.

              • rhino

                Ketchup is appropriate as an ingredient for many things, it’s just not a very good condiment by itself. I do think ketchup is an essential in the kitchen, just not on the dining table.

          • wjts

            Ketchup on oysters? You should not be allowed to eat them.

            Eat oysters? He clearly shouldn’t be allowed to eat anything.

            • “You got your ketchup on my oyster!”

              “You got your oyster in my ketchup!”

              Worst candy commercial ever.

            • Pat

              I thought he was just trolling Erik anyway.

              • Denverite

                Nope. Where I grew up, oysters on the half shell are served with a homemade cocktail sauce with a ketchup base.

                • wjts

                  You’re dead to me.

    • Area Man

      Being from the coast of SC, the idea of oysters as a “delicacy” still strikes me as weird. We regarded them as like popcorn: cheap, plentiful, and fun to eat. Shells were so abundant that we used them to make driveways. I was shocked when I first learned what people pay for them in other parts of the country.

  • The problem is not just climate change, though. It’s aggressive harvesting for a seemingly ever-expanding consumption demand combined with climate change.

    • Is there an ever-expanding consumption demand for oysters? In any case, it’s not that hard to harvest oysters sustainably. It’s not as if we are talking about tuna. The seafood restaurant I most go to here in RI just grows them in the estuary pond out back.

      • rea

        Is there an ever-expanding consumption demand for oysters?

        (1) A certain percentage of the population has an inexplicable liking for oyster consumption–possibly it’s genetic.

        (2) Population keeps increasing–the US population has doubled in my lifetime, for example.

        (3) Ergo, an ever-expanding consumption demand for oysters.

        • That’s a bit simplistic. After all, the population of 20th century America exploded but oyster consumption plummeted over that time.

          • rea

            A supply-side failure, surely. People ate their way through or otherwise killed off the available oysters–Long Island Sound, for example–prices go up, and consumption goes down. Oysters end up as luxury goods.

            Why yes, that’s a bit simplistic (but after all, this is a blog comment).

            And if not that, what did cause oyster consumption to plummet? Simply changing food fashion?

            • A number of factors, including changing tastes and environmental degradation.

              To take environmental degradation out of the mix–turtles. Was a popular food in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then severely fell out of fashion, although the poor in some parts of the country still eat them. But that was not a supply issue at all.

              • Ken

                The opposite case: lobster was once considered a giant bug, suitable only for prisoners and people in poorhouses who couldn’t get real fish or meat.

                • Right–cultural shifts are hugely important in understand food consumption patterns.

    • rhino

      Are there any wild oyster fisheries anymore? Certainly all of the most highly regarded oyster beds are farms, as far as I know.

    • Davis

      Oysters in the Chesapeake have been decimated by disease.

  • snark
    don’t worry, when the white cliffs of Dover (and every concrete structure within 10 feet of sea level) dissolve like alka seltzer into rising acidic oceans, the PH of the oceans will be buffered back to a less acidic level.

  • DRickard

    Ecologically, this will be a disaster.
    From a culinary viewpoint, it’s win-win.

  • Sly

    Long Island used to be the oyster capital of the world; the area didn’t fare as badly during the Great Depression because meat became expensive, thus creating the demand for substitutes, and because oystering itself is neither an educational- nor a capital-intensive enterprise. You basically needed a rake, a boat, and… that’s about it. The Blue Point Oyster, probably the most common variety in North America, got its name from the town on the Great South Bay where it was principally harvested.

    When Long Island suburbanized in the later part of the century, highway runoff killed countless oyster beds, and the industry never fully recovered.

    • mch

      Yes, Long Island oysters (also on the other side of the sound: Rye, CT/NY, for instance).

      Or take my NJ childhood. I can remember in the early 1950’s trying to make my way as maybe a 4 or 5 year old across pinching clams, other times mussels ( the poor man’s oyster). Some time in my teens years, that all died.

      Once you could walk across Plymouth Harbor on the backs of whales, no?

  • Tehanu

    Trader Vic’s used to have a wonderful soup they called billi-bi — which is really supposed to be cream of mussels — but they did it as half cream of spinach, half oyster stew. So good!

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