Climate change threatening California oysters

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 is working to build a better Bay Area-- that includes reporting on the environment. This week, concerning new information about how climate change is affecting the oyster population was released, and it seems that California's oysters are in trouble.

"This winter was not a good year for native oysters," said Ted Grosholz, a marine biologist and professor at UC Davis. "We've seen significant die-offs of as a result."

Grosholz spent the past three years researching how climate change is affecting oysters.

The study, published this week, focuses on oyster habitats in Tomales Bay, but applies to the entire California Coast.

"The estuary is getting squeezed on both sides, both on the ocean side and on the riverside," said Grosholz, who explained that climate change is increasing ocean acidity and the severity of winter storms, which flood the estuaries with too much freshwater. "What it means is that some areas of the estuary may not be able to support oysters at all in the future."

Grosholz is working to restore native Olympia oysters by creating habitats for the mollusks in the East Bay.

He also hopes, "with enough effort, we might be able to clean up the waters of San Francisco Bay, so that we could once again, consume oysters, and mussels, and other things that grow in San Francisco Bay."

"So these are our oysters from Tomales," said John Finger, describing all the oyster varieties on the menu at Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco's Ferry Building.

Finger is the CEO and co-founder of Hog Island Oyster Company, which produces 3-million oysters a year and sells 6-million.

In order to offset climate change and keep their oysters on ice, Hog Island's owners, John Finger and Terry Sawyer, are spending millions to increase the oyster population.

"The cost for keeping oysters on the plate are going up," exclaimed Finger.

Finger and Sawyer recently built a hatchery for oysters in Humboldt County.

"We're investing a lot of money in a hatchery so that we can breed animals that can be resilient against what we think is coming in changing ocean conditions," explained Finger about their hope to grow more robust oysters.

It's possible the cost of oysters will increase. But the current hope is that the new UC Davis study will inspire people to make changes and help create more favorable oyster growing conditions.

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