By Linda Hunter
CSI, Crime Scene Investigation? Nope, the exciting new crusade is not a television whodunit but the California Shellfish Initiative – a collaboration of oyster farmers, nonprofits, scientists and government agencies working together to make oysters more abundant, to restore natural systems, and create sustainable jobs in the shellfish farming industry.
Arguably, oysters and other shellfish may be the most sustainable fishery there is. Ever wonder how much water is required to produce a pound of beef? National Geographic’s website “The Hidden Water We Use | How Much H2O is Embedded in Everyday Life?,” reveals that it takes about 1,799 gallons of water, for just one measly pound to reach our super market shelves! Oysters however, are pretty much self-sufficient —they need only the briny water where they live and something hard to attach themselves to, like other oysters or an artificial reef.
These self-managing mollusks, are filter feeders and don’t need to be fed, require any fertilizers or other watershed-harming chemicals to thrive. Their filter feeding technique provides the added benefit of cleaning up the human mistakes that have fouled our estuaries and bays. These ecosystem engineers improve water conditions for species like salmon and other fishes as well as shorebirds and many other critters. Additionally, the presence of oyster reefs can also create a buffer for our shorelines during inevitable tidal surges caused by rising sea levels.
We love our oysters in the Bay Area and consume them voraciously. Despite our love of oysters and the huge number of bivalves consumed every day, did you know there are only five places in California that currently support oyster farming? Humboldt, Tomales, and Morro Bays, Agua Hediondo Lagoon in Carlsbad and Santa Barbara offshore are the only places in California where oyster farming is allowed. That is precisely what is so exciting about CSI. This collaboration can lead to far more shellfish farming, native oyster restoration efforts and better water quality. We can enjoy our oysters, create new jobs and improve our resilience to climate change at the same time!
The Watershed Project is excited about the best practices being developed in Humboldt County to streamline the permitting process for mariculture plots. Humboldt County has become a model for the Bay Area in designing a more efficient course for granting and expanding leases to oyster farmers. This permitting procedure would make it easier for other farmers or community members to follow in the footsteps of Pickleweed Point, a successful community oyster farm that also does outreach to the public and education to students of all ages about the benefits of oysters.
The Ocean Protection Council, along with its partners, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission the California State Coastal Conservancy, NOAA Habitat Conservation, NOAA Restoration Center, and the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, have been instrumental in making this movement happen by engaging key stakeholders and supporting native oyster restoration projects. They have even supported us at The Watershed Project by providing critically needed data regarding the best sites for restoration efforts. The results of these efforts have added to the San Francisco Bay Subtidal Habitat Goals Project to provide a long-term vision to restore 8,000 acres of restored native oysters to the San Francisco Bay shoreline.
We are excited about this endeavor and always grateful to the oyster farmers, educators, scientists and agencies for their vision, enthusiasm and support for our work. And, of course, the members of The Watershed Project who support our Living Shoreline Initiative!