The recent storms throughout California have been welcomed by some, cursed by others. One group in the latter category? Oyster farmers.
Thanks to the deluge of water hitting both Californian land and sea, the state’s oyster supply is taking a hit, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. The water runoff from the storms has forced harvesters to halt their operations, to allow time for bacterial testing. That means California oysters are disappearing from stores and restaurants across the state and beyond.
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“You can say that we’re the only farmers who don’t like rain,” Neal Maloney, the owner of Morro Bay Oyster Co., told the LA Times.
His company typically harvests about 1 million Pacific Gold oysters a year. But thanks to the rain, it’s unclear whether Morro Bay Oyster Co. will reach that number this year. January storms have already affected Maloney’s operations: He said that he hadn’t been able to harvest for about two weeks because of the rain. That delay has pushed his supply chain back by about a month.
And that’s on top of the difficulties his company has faced throughout the pandemic, with several restaurants that bought Morro Bay Oyster Co. mollusks closing in the past few years. “It’s like a three-year recovery,” Maloney said. “We were already kind of in a limited capacity, so to take any kind of hit right now is not a good time.”
The current issue is that the heavy rainfall results in runoff from agricultural fields and homes, which can increase the bacteria count in the water, John Finger, the CEO and co-founder of Hog Island Oyster Co., told the LA Times. That bacteria might not make people sick, but it could cause other issues in the water.
Depending on how much rain falls and how much water levels rise, oyster farmers are required by the California health department to wait a number of days before retesting bacteria levels. That gives the oysters time to purge out pollutants, and allows the water to become clean enough for harvesting.
In the interim, though, the oyster farmers aren’t able to carry out their business, and that could become the norm, some worry. Strong storms may occur more regularly due to climate change, threatening California’s oyster industry in the years to come.
“This is one of the things we were pretty sure was going to happen: more intense storms,” Finger said. “That’s what we’re going to have to get used to.”
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