Are San Francisco oysters a wilderness wrecker or a pollution solution?
The San Francisco Bay Area has been having some mixed feelings about oysters lately: Are they good for the environment, bad for the environment, or just treats for happy-hour drinkers at the downtown Ferry Building?
Just north of San Francisco in Point Reyes, Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has been fighting to keep harvesting oysters on what was set to become protected wilderness land on Jan. 1. Local environmentalists are split on whether fewer oysters will allow the estuary to “quickly regain its wilderness characteristics” or instead/also lead to a big unfiltered load of seal poop in that wilderness. (Wilderness: It’s kind of gross!)
Either way, we’ll soon find out, as Drakes Bay just lost its federal appeal to stay beyond a Feb. 28 deadline.
Meanwhile, some miles east across the bay on the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Christopher Lim and the Watershed Project are bringing oysters back. The bay had a large native oyster habitat that was wiped out by overharvesting and hydraulic mining. From KQED:
“Oysters, I think, definitely have that connection to people whether it’s through food … (or) the history of oysters in San Francisco Bay,” Lim said. “Part of the reason we would like to restore oysters is because we know of their ecosystem benefits in the Bay, and they were probably here in much greater numbers in the past.” …
Olympias, the only oyster species native to the Bay, are smaller — around two inches long — than the larger and more fast-growing Pacific you probably ordered at a restaurant. Lim said he enjoys the taste of Olympia oysters, but he makes one thing clear.
“The oysters that we’re researching here … we’re not meaning for them to be eaten,” he said. “We’re doing it for the ecosystem benefits that oysters bring to the shoreline and to the subtidal habitat.”
The Bay Area has that Wild West pioneer spirit, though, Christopher Lim. All I’m saying is, don’t be surprised if you attract some rogue divers out there searching for a snack.
Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for
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