Climate Change Stories

Heard on the Half Shell

Stories of climate change from Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition members, friends and supporters.

Young oysters grow on recycled shell at Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire.
Oyster Spat Young oysters grow on recycled shell at Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, New Hampshire. © Jennifer Emerling
SGCC logo.
© TNC

We're on Instagram!

Follow @shellfish4climate for the latest coalition news.

Love shellfish? Live on the coast? Care about climate? Share your story.

All along our U.S. coastlines, climate change is impacting lives, homes and bottom lines.  Members of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition have been farming coastal waters for generations, sustaining businesses that form the backbone of their coastal communities.

Now, we’re asking coalition members and supporters—as well as coastal residents and shellfish lovers everywhere—to speak up for climate action by sharing personal stories and lived experiences. Together, we can inspire action by letting policymakers know how climate impacts touch all of us. Email us a recording via the voice recorder app on your iPhone or Android device or share your written story, sending all submissions to sgcc@tnc.org.

A selection of our latest audio stories is below; visit our SoundCloud playlist for the full archive.

In a Half Shell blog
Julie Qiu Founder, In a Half Shell. © Julie Qiu/In A Half Shell

FEATURED STORY

Julie Qiu | In a Half Shell | New York, NY

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

I'm a self-described oyster sommelier, I'm a huge oyster nerd, and I love telling stories about the oyster industry and oyster culture around the world. My name is Julie Qiu and I'm the founder of In a Half Shell, which is a website dedicated to oyster appreciation.

I got into oysters when I started exploring a lot of different oyster bars. I joined the New York Oyster Lovers meetup group. I read a bunch of books about oysters and started asking a lot of annoying questions to chefs and distributors. And ultimately they led me to oyster farms. And I think that's what I really, really fell in love with the oyster world.

Being on an oyster farm is totally surreal because it's one of the most beautiful places on earth. And when you're having an oyster right out of the water, that is like a super magical moment in time. What I love about that is being able to appreciate a food right from where it's grown and being with amazing people who can tell you all about it.

We're really, really fortunate to have that opportunity to try so many oysters from all different parts of the coastline. And I guess that also ties into--there are just more oyster growers in general, I think that we haven't had before. Like 10 years ago, there were only a handful that I could find on the East Coast and even fewer, I think, on the West Coast. But today, there are so many entrepreneurs who are getting into the business and so many of them who maybe have done it for a while but have never really branded themselves, are now showing up on social media. So you can find these like great new growers or great existing growers that just really have a voice and a story for them to bring direct to the consumer.

And I guess if you're looking for a perspective on how the climate has impacted this product category, it's interesting because we as the consumer really see an abundance of oysters and the quality of oysters go up. But I know that's actually a very fragile thing and it's very delicate. And if you have a storm that rolls in, it wipes out an entire farm--that's it. And that is actually picking up in frequency, and in a larger span of time during the year. So it's been an interesting juxtaposition between this oyster culture that is really rising and developing in the U.S. versus the uncertainty and volatility of that oyster industry in the same space.

And relating back to climate change, I think that it does depend on where the grower is and that dictates what kind of immediate challenges that they're facing on a day-to-day.

For example, my friends who grow oysters in the Gulf or in the South Atlantic, they are bracing for storms every single year. And it's really heartbreaking to see sometimes entire areas get wiped out and they cannot do anything about it, which is really, really unfortunate. And then the growers who are more in the northeast, the waters are changing, they experience potentially invasive predators coming into an area that they didn't have to worry about years before.

I guess you can only plan for the worst every single time and hope for the best.

Collapse Transcript

Recording Instructions

Download detailed instructions on how to record and send your story!

Terms and Conditions

  • Disclaimer

    You must not submit any story, name, likeness, voice, persona, words, actions, biography and/or material (“Material”) that may violate or infringe upon another person's rights, including but not limited to any Material to which you do not have i) sufficient rights and/or ii) express written or recorded permission from any persons described. Minors must not submit any Material, though legal guardians may submit a minor’s Material on their behalf.

    You will retain all rights to any valid Material you submit. By submitting Material to TNC, you grant TNC and its related entities such as affiliates and subsidiaries a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, sub-licensable, non-exclusive right, in TNC’s sole and absolute discretion, to use, record, copy, publish, distribute, create derivative works, edit, translate, or modify the Material. Furthermore, by submitting Material to TNC, you represent and warrant that you i) have the necessary rights to submit the Material for the described license herein and ii) are of the age of majority in your jurisdiction and have the legal authority to agree and be bound by these terms.

    You hereby release, indemnify and hold harmless TNC, its affiliates, their respective successors, assigns, agents, and licensees, and its officers, directors, agents and employees from any and all claims that you may now or hereafter have against any of the aforementioned parties arising out of or in connection with such uses, including without limitation, any and all claims for invasion of privacy, infringement of right of publicity, defamation, and any other personal and/or property rights or any other rights of any kind. You agree that you and any persons submitting or described in the Material shall have no right of approval, no claim to any further compensation, and no claim arising out of the use, alteration, distortion or illusionary effect or use in any recording or broadcast of your name, likeness, voice, persona, words, actions, and/or biography. You acknowledge that The Nature Conservancy is proceeding with the production, distribution and exploitation of the materials in reliance upon and induced by this release. These terms shall be binding upon you, your heirs, legal representatives, and assigns.

More Audio Stories

Seamore's
Rob Eggleston Chef, Seamore's. © Seamore's

Rob Eggleston & Vinny Milburn

Seamore's & Greenpoint Fish - New York, NY

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript
Vinny

We've been around since the 1880s and the industry has obviously changed quite a lot since then. But just like everything with climate change, things have become exacerbated in the last 20, 25 years. Hearing stories of the old trawlers that were just offshore that could come in with millions of pounds of fish and they just weren't there anymore, it started to get me thinking about, well, this company has been around for five generations—is it even possible for this to go another five generations? Is there going to be fish and seafood to sell?

Vinny

My name is Vinny Milburn. I'm the owner and seafood purchaser for Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Company. We are a wholesale, retail, and restaurant located in Brooklyn, New York.

Rob

Hi, my name is Rob Eggleston. I am the executive chef of Seamore's Restaurant Group in New York City. We are a sustainable seafood restaurant.

Rob

I grew up in coastal Virginia and through my childhood I would go fishing with my dad and even more so, I started to develop relationships with oyster farmers in the Chesapeake Bay area because I—like so many other Southerners—love oysters and there's so many farms down in the Rappahannock. So, that is what kind of inspired me, personally knowing oyster farmers, to get in the seafood industry and the restaurant industry.

Vinny

And I would say that it's a very unique relationship between Greenpoint Fish and Seamore's in that we do sell to a couple hundred different unique restaurants and we're focused exclusively on providing only sustainable seafood options. So, my restaurant will only sell green or yellow rated species or seafood items. And the only other place in the city is Seamore's.

Rob

Being the executive chef, I am dedicated to purchasing only sustainable seafood. That word "sustainable" has grown over the years and can mean a plethora of things, but specifically, we're dedicated to buying species whose stocks are only stable or growing and that's something that I believe in.

Vinny

When I decided to jump full into seafood, it was something that sustainability had to be top priority because I don't see how the industry can survive without it. If we're doing what we're doing now and nothing else, we won't have the same seafood that we enjoy now. We certainly don't have the same seafood that we were enjoying 25, 30 years ago.

Rob

The availability of certain seafood has changed. Even over the past three years, I have noticed a difference in the length of time that certain seafood is harvested and what is coming in and what is available. And specifically, in shellfish and oysters, I've noticed kind of a change in the effects of acidification on oysters. And there are certain oysters that are becoming more brittle than they were in years past, and it's moving up the coastal line.

Vinny

It's becoming accelerated. Incremental changes that used to happen over hundreds of years are now happening in just a handful of years.

Vinny

It's only getting worse every year that I can tell. And these climate events now that would normally be rare or infrequent are becoming more extreme and more frequent—and it really disrupts almost everything. Climate change is something that is on every single person's mind in the seafood industry, whether they actively acknowledge it or not.

Collapse Transcript
Chiles Restaurant Group
Ed Chiles Owner, Chiles Group. © Chiles Group

Ed Chiles

Chiles Group - Anna Maria, FL

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

My name is Ed Chiles. I'm Florida born and raised, I live on Anna Maria Island, which is a wonderful piece of paradise—a barrier island on the west coast of Florida, south side of Tampa Bay. I'm in the restaurant business directly on the coast, and we specialize in local seafood and in sustainable seafood.

Sustainability is in my DNA because of my family. I grew up with a dad that loved to hunt and fish, and the most precious time we spent together was in the woods. He was of the land and had  grown up that way and was someone that was particular about what you did, and how you revered what you caught and what you killed, and how you utilized it, and how much you appreciated it. He was a great cook. So it was just kind of always about that.

We've got to do everything that we can to combat climate change, to turn the clock back on water quality issues. What keeps me up at night is harmful algal blooms, red tides--the kind of thing that put paradise in jeopardy, that put the history that I have here, and the heritage, and this precious thing at risk. And sustainability, and doing things the right way, and bivalve aquaculture is a giant part of that.

We may not have to worry about oil, especially with what's happening on electricity. We may need to worry about protein. We've got to feed people in the next 20 and 30 and 40 years. And clams and oysters don't have any negative environmental impact, they have a tremendous positive environmental impact.

Why? Because they're filter feeders, and they filter water and they take the nutrients out of the water that cause us problems. And they eat red tide, and they live through red tide, and they clear the water column. And if you have a clear water column, you have more photosynthesis. And if you have more photosynthesis, you have more seagrass. And if you have more seagrass, you have more forage fish. And if you have more forage fish and seagrass and clams, you have more carbon sequestration and you have more vitality in that whole marine ecosystem. And so that's why clams are important. They're also important because this area was built on seafood, that's our heritage.

So, those are some of the really compelling reasons that we need to be doing bivalves. It's about economic development here. It's about branding here. This is about our values and who we are. And that's the message that we want to send because we care about our history, we care about our heritage and we care about our environment.

And if you're going to come here, we want you to understand that. We want to show you that. And hopefully you'll take that back and look at what are the intrinsic resources you have in your community that you can leverage in the fight against climate change and for sustainability.

Collapse Transcript
Shina Wysocki
Shina Wysocki Farm Director, Chelsea Farms © Chelsea Farms

Shina Wysocki

Chelsea Farms - Olympia, WA

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

People can forget that food comes from the earth and not the grocery store, so—[laughter]—there's a lot of steps between the earth that the food is grown on and the grocery store.

My name is Shina Wysocki and I'm the farm director at Chelsea Farms, which is my family's shellfish farm in Olympia, Washington.

My parents started it when I was about 10 or 11, and before that they worked for shellfish farms so they would have to take us out on the beach with them when they dug clams or did different experiments. I went away to culinary school because food is my first passion and kind of started traveling and doing different things with my husband and I moved back to town. My mom needed help and I love it so much.

What's happening out in the bay changes all the time. It's a constant moving target of what algae is blooming, certain species of jellyfish or starfish. The thing we know for sure is that it's going to change out in the bay, and some of that change feels like familiar change. And some of it feels like different, larger change. It always takes a bit for it to sink in and for you to really realize that it's different than it was.

Humans are changing the earth and the earth is changing the earth, there are two colliding things that are happening at once. But we've seen acidification change shellfish farming in the hatcheries where the oyster seed is not happening, and we've watched the hatcheries adapt to some extent to the changing sea water because they are in a controlled environment.

But what we don't know is how much it's changing out in the wild and how that is affecting native populations. We want to see the other creatures, animals, everything happening in nature—that's a sign of a healthy bay. So when you're not sure that native things are reproducing like they should or they historically did, it makes you worry about the balance of the bay and that ecosystem that is so fragile and so important to all of us.

We all want the same thing. We want the bay to be clean so that we can farm shellfish in it, and keep the salmon alive, and keep the orcas alive. And our goals are all the same. Just if we don't talk about how we get there, the roads get divided.

As far as climate impact goes, I think that if we're not paying attention to the ecosystem in the forefront of our minds, it is so delicate that that will be probably the first straw to break.

I'm hopeful overall for our society that we might be more engaged in our lives, that we might think more about what's on our plate, and maybe spending more time outside. I think getting people outside, appreciating nature makes them want to save it. So I actually think there's a lot of silver linings to this cloudy day, and I'm hopeful that we don't lose sight of them.

Collapse Transcript
Katherine McGlade and Spurgeon Stowe
Katherine McGlade and Spurgeon Stowe Owners, Slash Creek Oyster Co. © Slash Creek Oyster Co.

Katherine McGlade & Spurgeon Stowe

Slash Creek Oyster Co. - Hatteras, NC

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript
Katherine

When we first started farming, a lot of the local people said they would not eat a farmed oyster for anything.

Spurgeon

And they love them. Right now, people would rather eat our oysters then they would have a wild oyster. I think, the taste of it, it's a saltier oyster than most we get around here.

Katherine

I think the taste of our oysters is all about the water because we're out here really 20 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. The mainland is 20 miles away. And we're quite close to the inlet where you're having ocean water flushing through the inlet every six hours. So, you have very little agricultural runoff. You have very little stormwater runoff. And you have, for a great deal of the year, very little population at all.

Katherine

It's just clean and clear, and I think that's the flavor that comes through in our oysters.

Spurgeon

It's a lot more work than I expected and I really didn't have a dollar sign to put on it. I didn't know what to expect out of that.

Katherine

It's definitely a lot more work than we expected. Oysters need a lot of attention and you have to give them that attention. So that's sort of one aspect of the work.

Katherine

The second aspect of the work is dealing with nature. You're constantly having storms, including the possibility of direct hits from hurricane, and that has been a very complicated component of it. And no two farms are alike. No two pieces of water are the same. The way the tide and the wind and the currents interact--

Spurgeon

The waves.

Katherine

--and the waves on our farm is going to be different than a guy that's five miles that way, or five miles that way, or ten or more. It's things that there's no way to know about until you actually get to know the piece of water that you're farming.

Spurgeon

When we were cub scouts, we'd play softball on the beach and the beach was so wide there, you'd have two different games going on the beach, and now that's all gone.

Spurgeon

In fact, they had to move the lighthouse.

Spurgeon

Yeah, yeah.

Katherine

In order to keep it from being washed away.

Spurgeon

It was right after World War II, they came and they built sand fences and stuff. Before, the beaches were all flat. The waves would wash over them, all the way across.

Katherine

If you look at some old pictures of out here, it's flat, there aren't any dunes. And the natural processes of a barrier island is to slowly, over a long period of time, migrate backwards. And so, the dunes stop that process and they change the wave energy. The wave hits the dune and then directs that energy downward, which naturally pulls sand away.

Katherine

So they essentially, when they built the dunes, when they did that out here, they altered the natural processes of the barrier island.

Collapse Transcript
Photo for SGCC Heard on the Half Shell campaign
Bill Rodney Biologist, Texas Parks and Wildlife © Texas Parks and Wildlife

Bill Rodney

Texas Parks and Wildlife - Houston, TX

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

My name is Bill Rodney, I'm a biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, specializing in oyster restoration projects. Most of my work's been in Galveston Bay and on the upper Texas coast.

Oysters are up against a suite of stressors. It's a complicated thing, but there's issues with hurricanes that come through and bury the reefs. There's raging disease. When the waters get saltier, the disease gets worse. There's predators that also kind of come in with the saltier water and then there's climate change.

Climate change is going to change the ecology of the estuaries and comparing wild oysters and wild oyster fisheries to aquaculture oysters, they're the same animal and they're going to do basically the same thing when they're down there in the water. The difference is, in the wild population, their populations change according to natural conditions and harvest pressure and predation and stuff.

Whereas in an aquaculture situation, all the individuals will be about the same age and same size, as opposed to having a wide variety of sizes and ages in the wild population.

And then there's the issue of, well, the common threats to them are that they both are in the same water. They both are threatened by whatever threatens the water quality, and they are threatened by the same stressors related to climate change or changing salinities and also stronger hurricanes and changing sea level.

Of course, the oyster wild fishery is not going to be able to adapt the same way the farmers can because they can move their gear around and they're not dependent upon having a reef substrate on the bottom wherever they're doing their thing. They basically recreate that inside their cages so they can kind of be flexible in terms of where the optimal water quality is compared to the wild fishery, which is sort of at the mercy of whatever happens.

And the thing that gives me hope also is just the oyster's general biological adaptability. I mean, oysters are incredible. They can live in the intertidal where it gets dry half the day. They can live deep in the water where it never gets dry at all and everywhere in between. And they can change the thickness of their shells if they sense lots of predators in the vicinity, by secreting more calcium, at least as young oysters they can do that.

There's just all kinds of adaptability about oysters that make them really resilient. So, the oyster's biology gives me hope. It'd be nice if we are all as adaptable as the oyster, and also as creative as the oysters because they create these amazing reefs that give home to other things. So, they're very generous in a way.

I guess it was last summer, the Galveston Bay Foundation contacted me about playing at their first inaugural Houston Oyster Festival.

[Music begins]

And I was really excited about it, so I thought "I've got to write a song about this."

[Music] Consider the a humble oyster living on the muddy bottom of the bay.

The song's basically touting the oyster reef's ecosystem services with a little bit of humor, I hope in there.

[Music] Why it's just a rock that's filled with snot, I heard somebody say

I think the oyster reefs kind of have a public relations problem. They support all this biodiversity and they create these interesting structures and there's no nice Jacques Cousteau specials on TV or whatever. So, you know, they need a little bit of a boost.

[Music] But did you know that just one oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in one day.

Now, imagine 10 million oysters on a reef, on a reef.

[Music] Whoa, that blows my mind away. Oysters! Oysters! Oysters! The best are from Texas, don't mess with the rest cause they're not just  for breakfast anymore.

[Laughter] That last bit, I guess it was just like a little joke to throw in there. [Laughter]  There it is. Now, here we are. [Laughter] 

Collapse Transcript
Owner of Hog Island - CA
Terry Sawyer Founding Partner and Vice President, Hog Island © Hog Island

Terry Sawyer

Hog Island - San Francisco, CA

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

I'm Terry Sawyer. I have been growing shellfish for close to 35 years. I'm a co-founder of Hog Island Oyster Company, and my partner John Finger and I have really grown something that's now 280 employees, five restaurants. We have a farm here in Tomales Bay in Northern California, we have hatchery operations in Humboldt County, and then we've got what we call leases that we're developing out of Tomales Bay.

I grew up on the east coast of Florida, on the Indian River, and my parents would always go to somebody's lease on the Indian River where there was a wild harvest of oysters. And quite frankly, they scared me to death. From my perspective, looking at an oyster that was fairly large, I just saw this mass of this grey flesh. And I just said, I can't, palate-wise, texture, or et cetera. I was just like, no. Fast forward to when I was, oh, about 19, 20 years old, I was in college in Santa Cruz. I was in the marine biology program at the University of California there, and I had the distinction of joining a party of marine biologists, what we call starving marine biologists. And I tried my first oyster, and there was no looking back on it. It was absolutely delightful. I loved it. I couldn't get enough.

We're all connected. We're connected to our food and we're often put in a place, being in the aquaculture field, of having to be an interpreter for terrestrial species on what is actually going on in that aquatic marine environment. We've become increasingly isolated from our food, and I think the pathway is through people's palates, through their stomachs.

What have I seen change? Well, the success rate of actually getting oysters and getting them to a viable place. Getting them to the plate has been much more challenging. I might be looking at a season where I'm seeing a hundred percent mortality in a seed group that I planted, or 20%, one year, 80% another year. We're seeing increased frequencies of these events happening.

So what do we do? We have to take the glacial speed in policymaking and try to come to some level of parity with the changes that need to happen. Now that's a big lift. And I think what it's going to take is not only visionaries on the policy side, it's going to take courage. So I think that it's going to really take those of us that are actually seeing the changes, the early warning systems that we have at our fingertips, in the water, and telling a story and then our interpretation has to get out there and get to people. We got to get people actually that are making decisions out on the water, in the water, under the water. And whether we do that physically, or if we do that with drones, cameras, monitoring data, all of this really has to be done sooner than later.

Collapse Transcript
Photo of SGCC members Dan and Greg Martino/Cottage City Oysters
Dan and Greg Martino Owners, Cottage City Oysters. © Cottage City Oysters

Dan and Greg Martino

Cottage City Oysters - Vineyard Haven, MA

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

Greg: My name is Greg Martino and I am co-owner and farmer.

Dan: And I'm Dan Martino, co-owner/farmer of the Cottage City Oyster Farm on Martha's Vineyard. Greg and I were living on the vineyard and ended up filming a show about the Billion Oyster Project in New York City. Which is an amazing project in and of itself.

But through that experience, I was introduced to the world of oyster farming and the good that oysters can create in the environment. And it just was something that just immediately struck me as something I needed to do. So, we called up a local oyster farmer here on the vineyard, a man named Jack Blake from Sweet Neck Oysters, and just asked him if we could work on his farm and kind of pick his brain and see if this was something we wanted to jump into. And sure enough, you know, after a couple of months of doing that, it was something we decided we wanted to start a business and figure out how to start farming oysters.

Greg: We like to take on projects that are, we're not qualified for it, to be honest with you—like things that are just so difficult and maybe we don't have any experience in and we like to just learn, you know, I think that's probably one of our big strengths is that we want to learn about something and we get fascinated with something. And this was one of those things. So for us to just be like, "Hey, let's go and see what this is about and learn about it from kind of a fan perspective versus a business perspective"—that's probably what kept us going and pushing to create this business, is we were just kind of fascinated by this industry and all the hats that you get to kind of wear—engineering, creativity, marketing, the business aspect of it. There are all these components that go in; there are all these different challenges.

So, it kind of just satisfies and checks all boxes for a good quality of life, I would say. And that's what keeps us pushing forward and wanting to continue to do this. And continue to see how far it can go.

Dan: We're definitely addicted to like, getting into things that are over our heads, and like pushing ourselves.

That's part of the reason we're signed up with the climate coalition and, you know, we're working on all the acidification projects that we're working on and we're just trying to constantly push ourselves to grow.

Greg: I think that's a big reason why we got into this was not because of the challenges, but it was the benefits of aquaculture—shellfish aquaculture and seaweed culture. Maybe that we can do a small part to help the problem versus running away from it and saying, "Oh, this isn't going to work." It's, "Why don't we step up and do something that not only hits, you know, food equity, but also environmental benefits."

Dan: And then you look at an animal like an oyster whose entire job is to just filter the ocean and [eat that abundance of nitrogen before it can cause a problem—it's greatly improving the environments that you put them in. It's helping to keep these estuaries and ponds in a healthy balance, but at the same time, from a food security standpoint, you're able to grow protein with zero fresh water and zero food input. So, you're literally getting a free nugget of protein out of every oyster without having to contribute to freshwater resource depletion or over fertilization or overfeeding of food inputs.

Greg: The shells of the oysters are absorbing carbon, if we're talking specifically about carbon, and then we're removing that carbon and kind of eating it in a sense by eating the protein that's grown. And you can recycle the shell, or you can put it in your driveway, or put it in your garden. So, it's awesome that you can kind of eat your own carbon footprint in a sense.

And that's a fundamental mission of ours, is to be the most sustainable farm that we can be. Shellfish protein is the most sustainable protein that can be grown on the planet. You add that with the fact that it's actually cleaning the water and benefiting the environment, it's a no brainer—at least, you know, for us—that we need to be doing this; more people should be doing this, you know?

Collapse Transcript
Photo of SGCC member Bill Dewey/Taylor Shellfish
Bill Dewey Director of Public Affairs, Taylor Shellfish. © Taylor Shellfish

Bill Dewey

Taylor Shellfish - Shelton, WA

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

I'm Bill Dewey, director of public affairs for Taylor Shellfish Farms in Washington state. I got into the shellfish industry after getting a degree in shellfish biology from the University of Washington. My college advisor, mentor, and still good friend today, Ken Chew, introduced me to Dick Steele, who owned Rock Point Oyster Company. And that was the beginning of 39 years and counting for me in the shellfish industry.

As director of public affairs. I don't get to grow shellfish, which is really my passion. I resolved that 20 years ago by starting my own shellfish farm as a hobby. Much to my family's dismay, that is now more than a hobby and growing Manila clams and gooey duck consumes most of my free time and some of theirs.

With the population exploding around the shores of Puget Sound, it has been increasingly challenging to keep the waters clean enough to grow healthy shellfish that are safe to eat. Until a decade ago, much of my focus was on non-point pollution impacting our beds from failing septic systems, poorly managed agricultural runoff and stormwater runoff, things like that. Today, much of my attention is also on carbon pollution and how it is changing the chemistry, temperature and biology of the ocean, as well as storms that impact our farms and worker safety.

Ten years ago, the oyster larvae in our hatchery in Dabob Bay were dying and we couldn't figure out why. It was happening to good friends of ours at the same time with a hatchery on the Oregon coast.

Well, it took a few years and a lot of collaborative research to come to understand that it was changing ocean chemistry as a result of carbon dioxide emissions being absorbed by the ocean that was killing our baby oysters. And it turns out we were likely the first businesses to be impacted by ocean acidification and know it. And now our focus has turned to addressing the source of the problem.

Unlike in the hatchery, we can't easily manipulate the chemistry of the ocean on our farms. And if future generations are going to continue farming shellfish, we need to address carbon pollution.

What gives me hope is that the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition in just a couple of years now has over 150 members that share that same concern. Hopefully, our stories of how carbon pollution and climate change is impacting shellfish farms around the country will move policymakers to act.

Collapse Transcript
Headshot - Sally McGee, Project Manager, Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition
Sally McGee Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition project manager. © Anna Sawin Photography

Sally McGee

Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition Project Manager - Mystic, CT

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

My name's Sally McGee, I live in Mystic, Connecticut. I work for the Nature Conservancy and I manage the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition, which is one of the best jobs I've ever had.

I worked in Wild Harvest Fisheries for a long time. I was a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, which, in New England, that's the group that's in charge of species like cod and haddock and flounders and fishing out to 200 miles offshore.

When I was done with my stint on the council, I would spend a lot of time on the Mystic River, where I live and go swimming with my family—right next to this kind of mysterious building that I didn't really know what happened there. But I knew there was something related to shellfish so I started talking to the people who worked there and one really nice guy who would answer all of my questions about growing shellfish.

And eventually, I think when he got a little tired of my questions, he said, "Is this is something that you would be interested in doing?" I decided that that was something that I wanted to do. So I did for about six years, and I learned more about the Mystic River in those few years of oyster farming than I ever knew before.

One of the benefits of growing shellfish for a few years is that I got to know a lot of shellfish farmers in the process. And at shellfish growers meeting up in Maine, I met Bill Mook. Bill had this idea that shellfish farmers should do something about climate change. They were seeing impacts, all sorts of different kinds of impacts on their businesses.

They were looking for a partner. So, I worked for The Nature Conservancy in addition to having my shellfish farm, and he said, how about The Nature Conservancy partners with us? And we've been at it ever since.

The thing that keeps me optimistic is these shellfish farmers that I work with. [Crying] It's okay. So, the thing keeps me optimistic, even though I don't sound optimistic right now. [Crying] You know, our goal in the first year was to get 40 and by the end of the first year we had 100, and now we have 150 and more keep joining.

You know, they see impacts all the time. It's not just a one time thing. It's you know, it's changes in the water. It's changes in the water temperature. They're constantly having to adjust.

And even through all this, they are willing to come with us to Washington, D.C. They're willing to have people come to their farms and tell them again and again and again how you grow a shellfish. So we've got all these business owners that care and that are sharing their experiences and that then can turn around and tell their customers about it, too. So, that makes me hopeful.

Collapse Transcript
Steve and Sarah Malinowski, owners of Fishers Island Oyster Farm.
Sarah and Steve Malinowski Owners, Fishers Island Oyster Farm. © Fishers Island Oyster Farm

Steve and Sarah Malinowski

Fishers Island Oyster Farm - Fishers Island, NY

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript
Sarah

Hi, I'm Sarah Malinowski.

Steve

And I'm Steve Malinowski, and we own Fishers Island Oyster Farm in New York.

Sarah

We took a moment to sit down with our grandchildren to talk about the impacts of climate change on the shellfish industry. And here's how it went.

Grandkid

Grandpa, why did you decide to be an oyster farmer?

Steve

Well, I enjoyed working outside a lot more than I enjoyed working in an office. So then I went to graduate school. And when I was in graduate school, I studied clams and, at the time, decided that it would be a good idea to try and start a clam farm. And then after about seven years, we decided to switch from clams to oysters.

Grandkid

How did you learn to be an oyster farmer?

Steve

We learned a whole lot from our mentor, Carey Matthiessen, and we borrowed some ideas from the few other people that were doing this at the time. And there was an awful lot of trial and error involved, a lot of learning about how difficult it is to work in the water. And we finally arrived at a system that, although it's cumbersome and labor intensive, it works at our site.

Grandkid

Nana, why do you eat oysters even though you're a vegan?

Sarah

I call myself a climate vegan and eating farmed oysters, shellfish, seaweed actually makes our oceans healthier. So eating oysters could actually be considered a climate crisis solution.

Grandkid

Grandpa, wouldn't it be easier to just get wild oysters instead of farm them?

Steve

Well, you would think so since you've seen how hard it is for us to grow our oysters. But in reality, particularly in the north, there are very few oysters left. We ate them all. And those that are left are providing such great ecosystem services that we should leave them in place in the wild.

Grandkid

Nana, what does the future look like for oyster farmers?

Sarah

We are hopeful that there is a future for oyster farmers and ocean farmers, but that really depends on whether or not we prioritize, as a country, sustainable sources of protein and ocean farming. And our government and legislators need to look at it as an economic opportunity, a ,health and wellness opportunity and a great way to grow protein, grow sources of healthy food at the same time as sequestering carbon. It needs to be included as part of the solution to our climate crisis.

Sarah

But if we don't act fast, we won't be able to because we will have polluted ourselves to a point where oysters won't be able to develop in the ocean. They won't be able to grow shells. The pH is changing so quickly that it will become impossible to grow oysters. And that's the big tragedy that's facing our industry right now.

Collapse Transcript
Owner, Mook Sea Farm
Bill Mook Owner, Mook Sea Farms. © Mook Sea Farms

Bill Mook

Mook Sea Farms - Walpole, ME

Share
Expand Transcript Collapse Transcript

My name is Bill Mook, I own an oyster farm on the Damariscotta River in MidCoast, Maine, and this is my story. My entire life has revolved around working and playing on and in the water. And even before high school, my sights were set on a career in marine science. I graduated from college, taught science for several years, and then moved to Maine to attend graduate school in oceanography. I've been here in Maine ever since then. I managed a commercial shellfish hatchery for a few years and then in 1985 I started Mook Sea farm on the Damariscotta River.

In the early years, although we also grew oysters to market size, we were primarily a seed supplier. In our hatchery, we reared a wide range of basically all the commercially important bivalves that are found on the East Coast and we sold seed to other East Coast farmers and public restoration programs. Since about 2001 or so, we have focused solely on Eastern oysters. Climate change did appear on the radar, but it seemed a distant threat. It was unclear exactly how we would be impacted and I was completely focused on figuring out how to grow a small business and how to raise a family.

2009, however, was a crucial year. It was a real game changer. The winter was extremely warm and rainy, we had terrible problems producing oyster larvae in the hatchery, it was really stressful. We had a lot of heavy rainfall events and we realized quite early on that our problems were exacerbated by freshwater runoff. Late that fall after the hatchery season was over, Allen Barton from Whiskey Creek Oyster Hatchery in Oregon came to Maine and told us their story. He told us how working with OSU, they figured out that ocean acidification was severely impacting hatchery larval production throughout the entire Pacific Northwest.

Their larval observations were eerily similar to what we were seeing, and we really couldn't ignore them. Following their lead, we now adjust the PH of our larval cultures by buffering the water. And I can't say how grateful to this day I am that they shared their story. 2009 was also pivotal because it's we started to realize that greenhouse gas emissions were likely already taking a toll in other ways.

MSX is the oyster disease that wiped out oysters in the mid-Atlantic in the middle part of the 20th century. And over the decades, it spread north. And we had always thought that our cold winters shielded us from MSX. But after the winter of 2009, it nearly wiped out the Damariscotta River oyster farmers.

Increasingly frequent, intense storms were closing our shellfish growing areas to harvest more often because of excessive runoff and concerns about consumer safety. We were seeing more damaged gear and facilities, and even sales to major metropolitan areas were disrupted after big hurricanes and floods.

Over the next several years as climate science evolved, the IPCC assessment reports became dire and climate change became an increasingly divisive issue, I was motivated to figure out how shellfish farmers might help convince other Americans that climate change is an unprecedented crisis for all of humanity and that it requires unified action. This led to several months of talks with six other shellfish farms on both coasts and many conversations with Sally McGee. All of this resulted in the formation of the Shellfish Growers Climate Coalition in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

Helping to form the coalition has been a great journey. There are many things that for me have stood out about the coalition. But one that keeps me optimistic is that shellfish farmers are de facto environmental stewards. Our livelihoods depend on a healthy environment, and I think that's why the coalition grew so much more quickly than any of us expected it to. We have to keep it growing.

My mother taught me that when you borrow something it is important to return it undamaged or even better than when you took possession. That's how I feel about the Earth. We have a responsibility to take care of her. In the last few years, I've become a grandfather. I want my kids and grandkids and all grandkids to be spared from the worst of the predicted climate catastrophe. I want them to benefit from a life that is based on not just taking from Mother Earth, but also taking care of her.

Collapse Transcript
A shellfish grower cleaning his crop.
Shellfish Growers are grappling with the increasing impacts of climate change. © Bethany Goodrich
Kids having fun on the water.
Life on the Coast is increasingly synonymous with more frequent and severe storms. © Jennifer Emerling
Shellfish Growers are grappling with the increasing impacts of climate change. © Bethany Goodrich
Life on the Coast is increasingly synonymous with more frequent and severe storms. © Jennifer Emerling