The publication of a report entitled "Oyster Reefs at Risk" has touched off a wave of panic among the national media. In his report, Michael Beck warns that years of over-harvesting and coastal degradation, likely due to global warming, have crippled most of the oyster ecosystems in the world. He warns that 85 percent of all habitats are "functionally extinct of oysters." In spite of many, sensationalistic headlines in the national press, the situation will likely not affect your ability to get oysters. Here's why:
1. An Overwhelming Number of Oysters Today Come From Oyster Farms and Not From Wild Reefs: According to the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, 95 percent of worldwide oyster consumption comes from farmed oysters. Additionally, the farms produce little pollution and have little impact on the surrounding habitat. The Seafood Watch rates farmed oysters as the "best choice."
2. The FDA Heavily Regulates Wild Oysters Because of the Risk of Illness: Back in 2000, the FDA launched a campaign to drastically reduce the number of illnesses caused by wild oysters. Between 1991 and 2001, 40 Californian residents died from untreated raw oysters. The FDA plans to increase regulations for the summer of 2011. Given these increased regulation efforts, it's harder to find wild oysters, especially in the summer months.
There is little question that climate change and the BP oil spill have devastated the oyster community. Preservation efforts should continue because of the benefits oysters provide to their wild habitats. However, this latest report does not mean your ability to order oysters at a restaurant is coming to an end.