As I eagerly prepare my Thanksgiving oyster stuffing to cap off Virginia’s 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 a foundational, 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 benefitted 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, 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.
Using science, policy and industry collaboration, Virginia’s hatcheries and managers act as sentinels protecting not only state waters, but also its jobs and coastal heritage. We are so fortunate to have such “watchers of the water” in our own backyard. We can express our thankfulness by eating more oysters farmed here in Virginia. 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.
Now, can someone please pass the oyster stuffing?
This post originally appeared as Watchers of the Water: Giving Thanks for Virginia’s Oyster Sentinels on the Virginia Oyster Trail’s The White Boot Blog.