B.C. shellfish growers want entire supply chain probed for bacteria threat

After a recall this summer and with hotter weather expected for the future, B.C. oyster farmers are taking steps to head off future outbreaks

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Vancouver Island shellfish growers are urging regulators to look beyond shellfish farms as the sole cause of a virus that can develop in oysters when temperatures rise.

Last summer the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a food recall warning in August because B.C. oysters may have been unsafe for raw consumption due to the Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a naturally-occuring bacterium that can be present in oysters and other shellfish when water rises above 15 degrees Celcius.

In a series of workshops today and tomorrow, shellfish growers will be touring regulators around their operations and talking about ways to manage Vibrio in the future, said Roberta Stevenson, executive director of the B.C. Shellfish Association.

“We already do a massive amount of checks and we don’t believe the processors are not the culprits in the illnesses,” Stevenson said. “We have to look further along the farm-to-fork chain. The problem might be in trucking or in restaurants.”

 B.C.’s unusually dry spring and summer of 2015 is a precursor to changing climate conditions. B.C. is expected to experience hotter, drier summers and wetter winters.

“With such extreme hot weather we just have to change the way we’re doing business, but the fault is not with the processors because they already do five tests on the product before it even leaves their plant,” Stevenson said.

In addition to increased bacterial outbreaks, shellfish farmers have been trying to adapt to ocean acidification, a change in ocean water caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide that make it harder for shellfish to grow and survive to harvest.

- with files from Patrick Blennerhassett

jstdenis@biv.com

@jenstden