In March 2013, I met Benoit Eudeline. Benoit speaks in a thick French accent and is the lead scientific researcher at Taylor Shellfish Farms' hatchery. Located in the pristine Dabob Bay, Taylor Shellfish is Washington State’s foremost producer of farm-raised shellfish, supplying the industry with top-grade oysters, mussels, clams and geoduck. It produces two-thirds of the state’s mollusk aquaculture and is the country’s largest supply to Asia, boosting the state’s economy and solidifying the region’s bearing as a premium seafood culture. But in 2008, all this came to a screeching halt. Something was happening. Numbers were falling at Taylor Shellfish and all other farms in the area. Their production was at a loss. Larvae within the confines of their hatcheries became insolvent at surviving. Holes appeared in the developing shells. Disease and predators disrupted growth. Something was brewing in the Pacific Northwest.
Nowhere else in the world was this environmental phenomenon occurring. Mollusks, particularly oysters, were thriving as usual, but in the northwestern estuaries of the Pacific Ocean, the declining health of young shellfish became obvious. First, the oysters; then slowly the shells of young geoducks and the tendrils of mussels, which they rely on to suspend to their host, began showing signs of frailty. As the seasons over the next few years passed in confusion, scientists began studying the changing environments until something became evident.