Screw Extinction, Keep on Eating Oysters

Megan Van Schaick
4

oystersI really, really hate oysters. They are so slimy. They are so ugly. They don’t even taste good -- in fact, you don’t even taste them at all. Instead you shoot them down your throat so fast you don’t even get a chance to taste them. The best thing about oysters is their capacity for carrying a really delicious sauce. I’ve never had an ounce of sympathy for the oyster. Until I found out that they are, for all intents and purposes, extinct.

Between disease and overharvesting, oyster populations have dropped dramatically in recent years, to the point where they can technically be considered an extinct population.

Why should you care? There’s always oyster farming, right?

Right. There is always oyster farming. And don’t think it’s not in full swing. The French have been eating almost exclusively farmed oysters since the 1700s. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing the same. And, recognizing that many people out there really do love oysters, you wouldn’t have to give up eating your slippery little friends if most of our supply came from farms.

But the big problem is environmental. Around the world, more than 85 percent of natural oyster reefs have already been lost. And most of the remaining wild oyster population lives in just five areas around North America. This matters in a big way. Oysters might be small, but they are mighty, mighty filtration devices. While they are busy forming those giant clusters, they are also busy filtering the water around them, removing impurities.

This is the proverbial pebble in the pond. Filtering the water leads to a better living environment for other organisms, like plants and fish. That leads to a food supply for birds and other animals. Soon you have an entire ecosystem dependent on the work that oysters do. Take away the oysters and you take away the ecosystem.

So what do you do? Just quit eating oysters? No, of course not. But this is one case in which it’s a much better choice to pick farmed oysters over wild ones. They don’t really taste any different, they’re cheaper, and you get to save the world, one shellfish at a time.

Will you stop eating wild oysters?




Image via Allerina & Glen MacLarty/Flickr

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