The Saga of the Totten Inlet Virginica

Dec 14, 2012

The TIV is a special oyster. A few years ago, when I first tasted them, I wrote, “Picture the difference between a homemade fish stock and canned broth. That extra depth is the difference between Tottens and everything else.” They are just incredibly rich in flavor, a perfect combination of briny Eastern oyster species and umami-rich Pacific waters. Here is the one and only spot on earth they call home.


The La Tache of oyster terroir

So, not long after I raved about the TIVs, they disappeared from the market. The problem was that all the seed (baby oysters) was dying in the hatchery, before Taylor Shellfish ever got the chance to plant it out on the grounds in Totten Inlet. Why?

Ocean acidification. The really, really short version is that as carbon dioxide levels increase in the atmosphere, a lot of this CO2 gets absorbed by the oceans, basically turning them into seltzer. CO2 makes water more acidic (just like your seltzer is slightly tarter than tapwater), and this acid eats away at the alkaline shells of shellfish. Not a big deal (yet) if you’re already full sized, but if you are a baby oyster, just growing your first microscopic shell, acidic water can make it impossible for you to do that. This is beginning to happen all over the world’s oceans, and it’s a huge, huge problem, possibly bigger than the problem of extra CO2 in the air. Here’s a good source for the long version. Anyway, the problem seems to be just beginning to hit the shellfish industry, and for whatever reason, the Totten Inlet Virginicas were the canaries in the coal mine.

After suffering massive seed mortality for a couple of years, Taylor has gotten better at buffering the problem; two years in a row, their TIVs have made it all three years to market size, meaning (cue the trumpets) TIVs are back on the market! They can primarily be found around Seattle, Toronto, and New York; elsewhere, it’s spotty. Grab them–savor them–when you find them. You will have about two years; then, another gap, because the ocean acidification problem reared its head again with this year’s babies. And it is only going to get worse, not just for TIVs, not just for the shellfish industry, but for EVERYTHING that lives in the sea, or otherwise depends on it. So enjoy your TIVs while you have them, and while you’re doing so, join Bill McKibben’s movement to get a handle on the whole carbon thing.


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