Business

Big Island Home For Future Washington Oysters

June 22, 2012, 3:15 PM HST
* Updated June 22, 4:47 PM
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Most people come to Hawaii for vacation. Dave Nisbet now does it for work.

A longtime oyster grower frustrated by environmental conditions in Washington, Nisbet recently turned to the Big Island to keep his business thriving.

Nisbet’s Goose Point Oysters has been rearing shellfish for 34 years in Willapa Bay on Washington’s southwest coast.

But the oysters were no longer reproducing naturally there, the Seattle Times reports.

And the oyster hatcheries weren’t faring much better, as the larvae being raised with seawater there were also dying.

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The Times said Nisbet learned several years ago that the problem was likely the increasing acidification of the ocean caused by the greenhouse gases that are linked to global warming.

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The absorption of carbon dioxide lowers the pH of the ocean which robs oysters of calcium carbonate – the substance that puts the shell in shellfish.

And the cold waters that well up along the northwest coast are already richer in carbon dioxide than most surface ocean water.

Oysters haven’t reproduced normally in the area since 2005, so all the growers there must rely on hatcheries to grow their larvae, which at that stage can survive on their own in Washington’s waters, the newspaper said.

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So it was either rely on finding new methods of growing larvae, such as adding sodium carbonate to raise the pH of the water, or find a new location altogether.

Nisbet’s daughter, Kathleen Nisbet, had attended the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where she learned that acidification was not as severe in the ocean here as it is back home.

The family began working with Maria Haws, an assistant professor of aquaculture at UHH. Haws is also on the staff of the university’s Pacific Aquaculture & Coastal Resources Center on Kalanianaole Avenue, at the former site of Hilo’s wastewater plant.

Kevin Hopkins, the center’s director, told Big Island Now that Nisbet provided funding for the center to investigate whether oyster larvae could be grown in Hawaii.

“It turns out, it’s been a great success,” Hopkins said.

Nisbet has now developed his own oyster hatchery in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

He told Times reporter Craig Welch it would be easier and cheaper to build in Washington, but with the problems inherent there he decided to try an entirely new approach.

The partnership has been such a success that Hopkins doesn’t really mind that Nisbet lured away several of his researchers to work at his private hatchery.

“It’s really been a positive thing,” he said.

Hopkins said the center is still working with Nisbet on the process. They’ve found that they can grow larvae in one year instead of the usual two by rearing them with brood stock fish. The fish are fed, and the fish waste and leftover food causes the growth of algae which feed the oyster larvae, Hopkins said.

“It’s what happens in nature,” he said. “It was a great collaborative project.”

The larvae Nisbet grows in his million-dollar, 20,000-square-foot facility are mailed back to Washington to grow for three years in Willapa Bay, the Times said.

Goose Point Oysters has 70 employees and processes several million pounds of shellfish annually which it ships to markets around the world.

 

 

 

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