Oyster abstinence, how ABSURD! We can’t even practice safe-seafood. But that may very well be our future as the list of overexploited fishes continues to grow. This time it is not the usual suspects that populate the overfished lists such as tuna, Atlantic cod, salmon, shrimp and sharks, but a bivalve that even as far back as 1864 had been consumed in the amount of 700 million in London alone. The details of the oyster reef demise has just been released in a Nature Conservancy report that has found 85% have been lost primarily to overharvesting and coastal development.
What I found even more astonishing, but not surprising given our history of the exploitation of fisheries and other natural resources, is the practice of shellfisheries to continue harvesting oysters to a point where only 10% of a habitat remains. This is nothing more than a clearcutting of the oyster reef.
However, overfishing and coastal development are not the only culprits in the decline, but a systematic attack triggered by actions on land as well as sea. The report singles out specific incidents such as transferring oysters between bays enabling the spread of parasites and diseases, the dredging of waterways to be used for shipping lanes, the filling of bays, mangrove deforestation prompting an influx of sediment on the reefs, altering water flow from rivers, and polluted agricultural and urban runoff. But the report indicates the most pervasive problem is “…simply perception among managers that there is not a problem.”
- Oyster reefs in most ecoregions where they historically occurred are in poor condition and at risk of extirpation as functional ecosystems.
- In most individual bays and ecoregions there has been a >90% loss in oyster reef habitat. In some bays, losses are >99%.
- Globally, 85% of oyster reefs have been lost, making oyster reefs one of the most severely impacted marine ecosystem on the planet. (Shellfish Reefs at Risk, Nature Conservancy)
So unless a fundamental change is instituted for oysters, tuna, shrimp and all other targeted species, we will continue to see report after report signaling the decline of yet another item filling our seafood counters and restaurant menus.
And for those of you in search of aphrodisiacs, don’t worry as you can turn your attention to the plenty of other available species like rhinos, bears, tigers, sea turtles…Oh yeah, those species are facing poachers and incredible population declines as well.