Ken Cuccinelli’s Two Hobbies, Climate Science Denial and Oyster Farming, Do Not Go Together


    Don’t even get me started as to why Ken Cuccinelli’s post-politics endeavor: oyster farming is worth a story in the Washington Post, but there it is. Anyway, you’ll be happy (or unhappy, or completely uninterested) to know that Virginia’s former Attorney General and 2013 Republican nominee for Governor, Ken “the Cooch” Cuccinelli, has now “helped start an oyster farm on Tangier Island, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.” Astoundingly, given that Cuccinelli has been rabidly anti-environmental throughout his political career, there’s nothing environmentally bad about his new endeavor, at least according to the Post article.

    For a figure who has seemed to attract controversy throughout his career in Virginia politics, Cuccinelli has found his way into an enterprise that isn’t the slightest bit controversial. Tangier’s residents look forward to new jobs, and biologists and environmental advocacy groups are unanimous in their support of oyster farming.

    The oysters extract phytoplankton and organic particles from the water, reducing excess nutrients and improving water clarity. Agricultural runoff, soil erosion and over-fertilized lawns within the Chesapeake Bay watershed have all contributed to dangerously high levels of organic particles and algae blooms in the bay. Oysters help counter that. Unlike most subjects of aquaculture, oysters don’t need to be fed by humans. They get everything they need from the water.

    It all sounds great, right? Except for one huge problem that Ken Cuccinelli and his ilk won’t even admit is happening: man-made climate change.

    Three species in particular constitute the bulk of the Bay’s economic foundation: oysters, blue crab and striped bass. But as temperatures warm and ocean waters become chemically altered, residents of the Chesapeake region might need to reconsider what makes their region so special-and be willing to trade their crab cakes for a new food icon…

    ocean acidification will be a major threat to the Bay’s other quintessential food: oysters. In the late 1800s, when the Chesapeake Bay reached peak oyster harvest, the region was generating between 14 and 20 million bushels per year. Today, due to overfishing and disease, oyster populations are a mere one percent of what they once were. If ocean waters continue to become more acidic, that one percent looks to be in danger.

    Warming temperatures might also mean a greater risk of disease for oysters. Perkinsus marinus, a protozoan parasite, has been especially virulent among Chesapeake oysters since the 1980s. The parasite enters their digestive gland tissues, and infected oysters exhibit low reproductive rates and significantly reduced growth rates. Eventually, a buildup of hundreds of thousands of parasites kills the oyster by breaking down its internal tissues and obstructing its hemolymph vessels (the oyster equivalent of blood vessels). The parasite can’t infect humans, but it can kill more than half of infected oysters. Recent years have seen an expansion of P. marinus, which can now be found north of the Chesapeake. “That’s very clearly associated with the warming temperatures there,” Boesch says.

    In other words, it’s quite possible that a scientific fact which Ken Cuccinelli refuses to acknowledge, namely man-made global warming, may (ironically?) destroy his new business, oyster farming, over the next few decades. Perhaps economic self interest might finally do what reams of scientific evidence haven’t done for “the Cooch” – change his mind about what greenhouse gas emissions, largely from fossil fuel consumption, are doing to our atmosphere, oceans, and yes, the Chesapeake Bay? Personally, I’m not holding my breath that Cuckoo will get a clue, but on the other hand I never saw him becoming an oyster farmer in the first place, so ya never know?