The Follow-up File

Subject: Oyster farming

What they said then:
   Back in September 2006, Irene Fadden, manager of Taylor Shellfish Farm on Samish Bay, said the oyster farm had been suffering from a widespread outbreak of the vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria. The outbreak closed 20 oyster-growing areas in the state last summer, affecting 147 farms, including Taylor’s Samish Bay beds.
   “This is typically our biggest month for oyster sales because it’s summertime and people are barbecuing; (the outbreak) is definitely affecting our morale,” said Fadden, who has worked at the farm for 19 years.
   The bacteria can induce vibriosis, a gastrointestinal disorder in humans with symptoms of diarrhea, skin and blood infections and a low mortality rate. Vibriosis comes from eating raw shellfish that contain the bacteria.
   The Washington State Department of Health reported that of 116 cases of vibriosis statewide in 2006, two of those cases came from the Taylor Shellfish Samish Bay beds off Chuckanut Drive, Fadden said.
   Taylor Shellfish Farms spokesman Bill Dewey said the Samish Bay farm’s sales dropped by 25 percent after the outbreak.

What they say now:
   The DOH issued emergency protocols in early May in an effort to avoid another vibriosis outbreak this summer. The regulations set a maximum time that can pass before harvested shellfish must be chilled and require testing of farm beds every two weeks for the vibrio bacteria. If vibrio is found, shellfish beds could be closed. If two cases of vibriosis are traced to specific areas — the same amount traced to the Samish Bay farms last year — the beds would be closed.
   “It’s about catching the problem before it becomes a problem,” Dewey said. “It’s a naturally occurring bacteria and there’s not a lot we can do to control it.”
   While the new rules will present challenges to all Washington shellfish farms, Dewey said the new regulations are needed.
   “I don’t think anybody will disagree that the changes are warranted,” he said. “The outbreak last year told us what we were doing wasn’t working.”
   Dewey said the DOH collaborated with the industry before imposing the regulations, a move not required but welcomed by shellfish farms. He said the emergency regulations protect public health but do not impose overly burdensome restrictions on the farms.
   Dewey said the emergency regulations may become a model for national regulations, which will be discussed at the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference in August.
   “It’s a concern for us every summer — if we get into a hot spell there’s especially a problem,” Dewey said. “Another vibrio season is ahead of us. That’s what the emergency rules are about.”



Related Stories