Positive Feedback Loop between Introductions of Non-Native Marine Species and Cultivation of Oysters in Europe
With globalization, agriculture and aquaculture activities are increasingly affected by diseases that are spread through movement of crops and stock. Such movements are also associated with the introduction of non-native species via hitchhiking individual organisms. The oyster industry, one of the most important forms of marine aquaculture, embodies these issues. In Europe disease outbreaks affecting cultivated populations of the naturalized oyster Crassostrea gigas caused a major disruption of production in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mitigation procedures involved massive imports of stock from the species’ native range in the northwestern Pacific from 1971 to 1977. We assessed the role stock imports played in the introduction of non-native marine species (including pathogens) from the northwestern Pacific to Europe through a methodological and critical appraisal of record data. The discovery rate of non-native species (a proxy for the introduction rate) from 1966 to 2012 suggests a continuous vector activity over the entire period. Disease outbreaks that have been affecting oyster production since 2008 may be a result of imports from the northwestern Pacific, and such imports are again being considered as an answer to the crisis. Although successful as a remedy in the short and medium terms, such translocations may bring new diseases that may trigger yet more imports (self-reinforcing or positive feedback loop) and lead to the introduction of more hitchhikers. Although there is a legal framework to prevent or reduce these introductions, existing procedures should be improved.