In hot water: the recovery of thermal domes promises to be dark for small shellfish farms
At the end of June, an unprecedented dome of heat settled over the Pacific Northwest. Three consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures broke records from Oregon to British Columbia and put the region and its vast expanses of shellfish farms in the boiler.
Seattle had its hottest day in history on Monday, June 28, recording 107 degrees F. The previous record? It was the day before, when the historically temperate city crossed a 104-degree swamp. A few hours down the coast, Portland, Oregon, hit 116 degrees, hotter than ever in “hot” cities like Dallas, Los Angeles and New Orleans. A few hours north, Vancouver, British Columbia, reached an unacceptable temperature of 121 degrees.
To make matters worse, the heated dome – which meteorologists attribute to warming oceans caused by climate change – coincided with extremely low tide that left the seashells cooking in the sun. The Atlantic has reported that biologists in Canada have estimated a massive death of “billions” of intertidal creatures on beaches in British Columbia, where thermal imagery has recorded shoreline temperatures of up to 125 degrees.
Meanwhile, gulls had fun plucking stinky, stewed meat of oysters and gaping clams at aquaculture farms in Washington state, the nation’s largest shellfish producer with over 300 farms representing around $ 108 million in annual farm value, according to the Pacific Shellfish Institute.
Most Washington shellfish growers have reported some mortality in clams and oysters, but the consensus was that the full extent of extreme heat damage will only be known when growers can clearly see what percentage of their seed has been. destroy.
Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish, the largest shellfish producer in the United States, confirmed that he lost around 2 million clam seeds planted in the shallow bay of Samish, a large cultivation area at the north end of the coast. from Washington. State health officials then recalled oysters from Samish Bay and halted production there for more than a month after an outbreak of vibriosis, poisoning by the vibrio bacteria, which grows rapidly in shellfish. when they heat up.
Dewey added that some of Taylor’s temperature-sensitive Olympia oysters were set on fire, but so far said the damage has not been crippling.
“There have certainly been clams and oysters killed on our farms, but nothing has been catastrophic yet,” he said.
Taylor was helped by the fact that most of his farms are in deeper water with muddy bottoms. Dewey said oysters and intertidal clams that stand taller were hit harder by the heat wave, as were gravel or rocky bottom beds that dry up when the tide recedes. Rocks, gravel, and black oyster shells heat up, causing the temperature inside the shells to rise well above the temperature of the air.
In such intense heat, Dan Wilson, vice president of Olympia Oyster Co. in Shelton, Wash., Said reports of oysters cooking in their beds were not so far-fetched.
“They were damn almost done. The killing temperature for most bacteria is around 145 degrees, and it couldn’t be that far, ”Wilson said.
Wilson confirmed that his rock and gravel bottom beds did poorly in the heat, while his company’s oysters and clams in the more muddy growing areas were saved by the sediment isolation.
“I would say we had 20 acres badly affected,” Wilson said, adding that Olympia Oyster Co. operated about 150 acres. Wilson estimated that his company had also lost around 40 percent of its seed, which has ripples down the line.
“It’s a big deal. Our lead time is much longer than, say, factories. We have about two and a half to three years to mature, and in some areas four years. It’s harder for us to get our crops back, ”Wilson said.
For many producers in the Pacific Northwest, the heat wave is another blow in a deadly time, following Covid-19 restaurant closings and a costly new licensing process in Washington.
And Wilson added that while many large producers will be able to operate, he is concerned that the thermal dome may have been the beginning of the end for some small aquaculture companies.
“Some people have been injured much worse than us. Many small producers have been killed. They’re on rocky beaches and just don’t have the diversity, ”Wilson said.
On top of everything else, in July, the Washington State Department of Health reported a record 75 cases of vibriosis, far more than the previous record of just 48 cases, set in July 2018. The situation, Wilson said, appealed to some for the optimism of the good old farmer.
“It’s agriculture. There are always concerns. There is always stress. Hopefully this will push the price up so we can get some back as there is currently a shortage because of this. We’re going to be fine, ”Wilson said.