Organic Consumers Association

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How to Save the World's Oysters - and Eat Them, Too

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource page, and our Fish and Sustainability page.

The headlines were enough to make you throw away your shucking knife: "More than 85 percent of [oyster] reefs have been lost due to overfishing, according to a new study," said The Independent. Foodie bloggers panicked over the news -- was it suddenly an eco-crime to belly up to the oyster bar? Would oyster eating be forced underground, like those little birds the French eat with napkins over their faces? Could you ever again enjoy shelling out for these delicious bivalves with a clear conscience?

Yes, you should eat oysters, says the lead author of that study -- just make sure you order the right kinds. Mike Beck, lead marine scientist with The Nature Conservancy, has been studying shellfish (and eating them) most of his adult life. While his research does say that oyster reefs are the habitat most impacted by human activity, Beck hastens to add that there are plenty of oysters on the market that are raised sustainably. I asked Beck to guide us through the confusion -- and to talk about which varieties he prefers to slurp down.

Q. Let's set the record straight: Should we keep eating oysters, or stop? What's your research actually telling you?

A. First to be clear, our research in the Bioscience paper ("Oyster Reefs at Risk") did not address at all whether or not you should eat oysters. We did address the loss of wild oyster reefs around the globe; what has been (and is still) happening to decimate them and how we can reverse that with some sensible and cost-effective conservation, restoration, and management.

These days the oysters on your plate are more than likely to come from an aquaculture farm. Shellfish farms represent one of most -- if not the most -- sustainable forms of aquaculture and fish production.

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