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A 21 foot Japanese fishing boat washed up on the Bayshore, north of Waldport, Sunday. The hull was caked with slimy gooseneck barnacles – very tightly packed and stuck to the hull. It has Japanese writing on it.
Beachcombers noticed the boat early Sunday and some of them called NewsLincolnCounty.com to report their find. And we immediately called Dr. John Chapman, invasive species expert at Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
On scene, Dr. Chapman said the boat is definitely a product of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. He said it was one of at least three small fishing boats that were discovered along Oregon beaches on Sunday. Two others came ashore in the Astoria area.
Dr. Chapman immediately went to work examining the boat and its “cargo,” finding a suspected invasive specie. He said the difference between species found on this year’s debris compared to the last two years is that what was prevalent two years ago is gone, and that species showing up this year are different.
Dr. Chapman offered an explanation that the species that rode across the Pacific to North America in 2012 and ’13 were all part of the initial tsunami event. He suspects that the species showing up today are those that simply hitched a ride because they happened to be in the area. He says the invasive species may be making their way across the Pacific because there is so much debris still in the ocean between here and Asia. He says they’re simply hitching a ride – without a tsunami.
Dr. Chapman says there are up to 200 species that have been taken from various Japanese tsunami debris that have come ashore in Oregon. He said some species have been documented as having been in North America for quite a while. Other species are undocumented, period. He said there’s lots of learning to do. He also said he’s not done investigating the boat found at Bayshore. He’s got to get the Oregon State Police to turn it over for him so he can see what’s inside.
Dr. Chapman said beyond the presence of these invasive critters, there is the matter of the diseases they may bring ashore with them. He pointed out that diseases like starfish wasting could conceivably be attributed to a disease carried by debris or critters riding on them coming over from Japan – something that would take a number of years to prove one way or the other. He said a known oyster virus exists in Japanese waters and that Japanese oysters have been found clinging to various Japanese tsunami debris. Dr. Chapman says U.S. regulations require that any Japanese Oysters brought to the U.S. must remain in quarantine for four years to ascertain whether they have any diseases or parasites that might threaten the U.S. oyster industry. Today, Japanese oysters are simply coming ashore – mostly undetected, riding aboard tsunami debris.
Dr. Chapman also pointed out there is simply not enough research being done to adequately catalog what critters live in and along western U.S. coastal areas. He also indicated that a major scientific investigation is needed to determine if there is a relationship between th invasive species coming ashore and what might be called an opportunistic free ride provided by tsunami debris between Japan and the U.S.