High bacteria levels in Humboldt Bay oysters put OysterFest 2019 in jeopardy – alternate supply secured

Arcata Main Street Director Jeanette Todd and Co-Event Coordinator Amanda Kachervas. KLH | Union

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – Efforts to save the 2019 Arcata Bay Oyster Festival are furiously underway at Arcata Main Street's downtown office.

All of the oysters harvested in Humboldt Bay since Tuesday must be disposed of due to the recent hot spell, state officials announced at 6 p.m. tonight. That leaves the OysterFest with no oysters.

The bay is retroactively closed to 8:05 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, and remains closed. Nothing harvested since then may be used.

Coast Seafood harvested approximately 100,000 now-inedible oysters for the event, and Humboldt Bay Oyster Company another 38,000.

"It couldn't have happened at a worse time," said Todd Van Herpe of Humboldt Bay Oyster Company. He said his last three days of intensive work, and weeks of preparation beforehand, are all going to waste.

Arcata Main Street Director Jeanette Todd and Co-Event Coordinator Amanda Kachervas are working the phones, arranging emergency supplies of oysters from Pacific Seafood in Oregon.  They're also notifying the 40 festival oyster vendors of the situation so that they may revise their orders.

The Oregon company is reportedly working around the clock to harvest enough oysters to fill the gap. Todd said she is somewhere between hopeful and confident that the festival can be salvaged.

UPDATE: Todd says that Pacific Seafood has confirmed that it will be able to supply replacement oysters.

Van Herpe said results from testing of a meat sample submitted Tuesday morning came back today showing unacceptable levels of Vibrio parahaemolyticus bacteria due to the warm weather.

In 26 years in the oyster business, 17 of them at Humboldt Bay Oyster Company, this has never happened, Van Herpe said. The financial loss including harvest costs, lost wholesale sales and booth revenue is roughly $32,000, for which his company is not insured

He said some oysters were harvested before the Tuesday morning retroactive closure, but that "the bacteria don't know whether it's 7:30 or 8:05 a.m., and it's not worth it if it has the potential to get someone sick."

As of 10 p.m. tonight, two of the 40 OysterFest vendors had cancelled.

Meredith Maier of Six Rivers Brewery, a participant in the Shuck YEAH! event to be held in Fortuna the same day sympathized with Van Herpe. "Todd is an incredible human and a great business owner," she said. "I’m devastated to hear of his loss. The event in Fortuna is more about community than anything else and sounds like we have another cause to get behind. Supporting our local oyster farmers affected by global warming. And he supports our local breweries so we will wait in the wings to see how we can support him."

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