It’s the water: Our oysters may save the world

You may have seen the news item in the NY Times: one bright spot in the shambles left in the wake of Trump’s trip to Paris this weekend is the prospect of resuming shellfish trade between the US and European nations.

As it happens, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch all grow lots of shellfish. And eat even more, but they haven’t been able to buy American bivalves because, well, because. And here’s where Washington State can jump in to help. Says Bill Dewey, public affairs director for Taylor Shellfish Farms, the nation’s biggest producer of farmed shellfish, “Shellfish growers on the east and west coasts of North America have been working with the Food & Drug Administration since 2010 to reestablish trade with shellfish to the EU,” reports. Negotiations are continuing, and the prospect is optimistic. “We were told recently by the FDA that things are on pace to have the deal done by the end of the year.”

The problem lies in what’s called “sanitation.” Shellfish sanitation programs in the US and the European Union are fundamentally different, Dewey points out. The US ensures the safety of its shellfish by routinely testing the waters in growing areas to ensure they meet strict water quality standards, and surveys periodically for potential sources of pollution. The EU, on the other hand, tests shellfish meat. A clear case of apples and oranges. Determining what’s equivalent to what is what’s taking so long.

Dewey notes that the current discussions only involve production from “Class A waters” and only from the Netherlands and Spain to begin, which should be safe enough.

The domestic bivalve industry is experiencing strong growth, particularly with oysters,  so everyone (on this side of the pond, at any rate) would be happy to see US oysters make their way to Europe. And it’s not peanuts. American firms like Taylor export almost $2 billion a year worth of shellfish to Europe alone.