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Best Oyster Gifts

July 3rd, 2021

A few tasty ideas...

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2020 Holiday Newsletter

July 3rd, 2021

The latest oyster tidbits.

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Solstice Spirit

December 21st, 2019

Happy Winter Solstice. Today traditionally marks the seasonal zenith of oyster quality. And to go with the day, here’s a lovely post from Island Creek on what it means to be an oyster farmer on the Winter Solstice. Enjoy the turn.

Midwinter on Duxbury Bay

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Rebuttal to Oyster Herpes Op-Ed

July 18th, 2019

Here’s a rebuttal on the European-oyster-import situation, from the directors of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

European Oysters Safe to Eat

We are writing to correct some of the information offered in the May 22 opinion piece by Mr. & Mrs. Osinski titled: Keep Europe’s Sick Shellfish Out of America.

Mr. Osinski seeks to block a seven-year effort to re-open trade in bivalve shellfish between the U.S. and the EU. He points to the fact that populations of the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas, have been decimated by a strain of herpes virus known as OsHV-1. This virus doesn’t impact humans, but we know it causes mass mortalities in young Pacific oysters. The virus has devastated oyster production in France, Australia and New Zealand and has spread through much of Europe. We are unsure if it impacts the American oyster, Crassostrea virginica, but studies are underway.

It is reasonable to assume that any live shellfish coming from Europe or New Zealand carry the virus, and growers in the U.S. are understandably concerned. Our response needs to be legal, effective and guided by the best available science. The knee jerk response of banning shellfish trade with the EU fails in all three of these criteria. 

The World Organization for Animal Health maintains a list of 117 animal diseases known as the OIE list. Most countries ban trade in animals from countries known to have these infections to prevent the spread of these diseases. OsHV-1 is not on this list. If we were to ban the imports of EU oysters it could trigger retaliatory actions since we don’t have a legal justification.

Worse yet, banning EU shellfish imports would not solve the problem. OsHV-1 spread to New Zealand oysters six years ago and we import those oysters regularly. West Coast growers of Pacific Oysters believe that it is simply a matter of time before the infection reaches their shores.  What then? Do we ban West Coast oysters on the East Coast too?

International movement of exotic species and diseases has been exacerbated by international shipping for decades. Cargo ships carry vast amounts of ballast water, dumping that water when they take on cargo. Our ability to regulate this known vector for exotic species and diseases has been hampered by the desire for free trade.

We believe the best approach to mitigating the risk of OsHV-1 introduction lies in public education and labeling. It is illegal to put Pacific oysters in western Atlantic waters, but restaurants and oyster lovers need to know the risks involved. Waterfront restaurants should probably not serve exotic oysters and shell recyclers need to understand why we mandate drying shell for months before that shell can be used for reef restoration.

The knee jerk response of blocking shellfish trade with the EU will simply trigger retaliatory actions, hurting our industry while not fully eliminating the risk.

Robert Rheault, PhD.

Executive Director, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

Thomas Kehoe

Past President, East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

CEO Kingsbridge Strategies

Contact information:

Robert Rheault

[email protected]

(401) 783-3360

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European Herpes Threatens America’s Oysters

July 14th, 2019

This op-ed by Mike and Isabel Osinski of Widow’s Hole oysters first appeared in the Wall Street Journal. It’s worth taking very seriously.

Keep Europe’s Sick Shellfish Out of America

By Michael Osinski and Isabel Osinski May 21, 2019 6:59 p.m. ET

European oysters have herpes. It isn’t the virus that infects humans, but OsHV-1 kills up to 90% of juvenile oysters, making it a serious threat to the shellfish industry and ecosystems. Next month, ships full of live European Union oysters will arrive on American shores for the first time in a decade. All will be carrying the virus.

America banned imports of EU shellfish in 2008 because of concerns over norovirus, which can make people sick for short periods. In November the U.S. eased the ban, allowing Massachusetts and Washington state to trade with Spain and the Netherlands.

Our family runs an oyster farm on Long Island. In March we visited several European farms and were alarmed by what we heard and saw. In Ireland farmer Thomas Galvin pointed to a pile of dead oysters and said: “Norovirus is nothing. This is what you don’t want.” Last year Mr. Galvin lost 90% of his crop to OsHV-1. “What is wrong with your country?”

The virus appeared in France in 2008 and has since spread throughout Europe, Australia, New Zealand and China. The East Coast of the U.S. has remained free from the virus, but a milder strain has been a recurrent problem on the West Coast for 20 years.

The infected EU oysters are headed for American restaurants, but we see some possible vectors of transmission into our waters. Popular shell recycling programs gather used shells from restaurants and set them with oyster larvae, or spat, and place them in bays to build living reefs. Diners at restaurants built over the water sometimes toss shells overboard, another potential source of infection. I can see four such restaurants from our work dock here. National Geographic reported an English oyster farmer lost 80% of his crop to the OsHV-1 virus after using a piece of French equipment that had been out of the water for several years.

Scientists have detected susceptibility to the virus in Crassostrea Virginica, the oysters we grown on the East Coast. Out west they grow the same species as the Europeans: Crassostrea gigas. Introducing the virulent herpes strain from Europe into West Coast oyster beds would be catastrophic.

We are asking for common sense. No pig, cow or chicken—not to mention a tulip bulb—would be allowed into this country if it were carrying a virus as dangerous as OsHV-1. When we called the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an aquaculture specialist told us to start a petition. After talking to her boss and industry lobbyists, she informed us that the USDA doesn’t consider oysters animals.

We started the petition anyway, and many of New York’s most prominent chefs and restaurateurs have signed. There is time to prevent a problem instead of reacting to one. Why recklessly experiment in our waters where there is no do-over? “You don’t want OsHV-1 in this country,” says Chris Langdon, a marine biologist at Oregon State University. “Stop it while you can.”

Mr. and Mrs. Osinski own Widow’s Hole Oysters.

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