In the midst of dire news about declining fish stocks, the developing oyster farming industry on the Vineyard offers a rare opportunity for optimism.
So it is that even a handful of reports of illness linked to eating raw oysters sends shudders through the community. According to state health officials, who this week ordered a weeklong closure of Katama Bay to oyster harvesting, there have been four confirmed cases of Vibrio poisoning in a little over a month.
Vibrio parahaemolyticus, sometimes called Vp, is a naturally occurring bacteria that tends to bloom in the summer months when the water is warmer, which is why people have traditionally recommended eating oysters only in months with the letter R. Consuming raw oysters infected with Vibrio can cause a serious gastrointestinal reaction; cooking the oysters will kill the bacteria.
With September acting more like August this year, ocean temperatures are still high, so the state’s decision to close the shellfish beds seems prudent.
But the closure should be put in perspective. Oyster farmers must now follow strict handling procedures, and every oyster is tagged to enable officials to pinpoint the source when rare cases of Vibrio poisoning occur. State health officials who have been carefully monitoring these new protocols report that Vineyard oyster farmers have been following the protocols to the letter. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Martha’s Vineyard bivalves have been happily consumed this summer with no ill effect.
Eating raw shellfish demands a bit of common sense. Only eat oysters that are freshly shucked, don’t hesitate to ask about the source, and think again if you have a weak immune system.
And if you are still squeamish, we’ve got a great recipe for oyster stew.