Super-Sized Crabs and Oysters with Herpes

When you spend most days scanning the wire (ok, the Internet; I'm old-school) ferreting out the latest events on the important conservation issues of the day, you come across some remarkable stories. Most make you cry. Some make you laugh.

And then there are those that make you laugh while you cry.

Which brings me to these two headlines from last weekend that created a serious panic among those of us in Cajun country:

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The first headline came across my cell phone inbox while I was attending - really - an oyster party in honor of a friend's 50th birthday. As is the custom in The Big Easy, we had a sack of freshly harvested local oysters iced down and being shucked by a pro. Some were being placed on the grill floating in a butter-garlic sauce, others were getting lapped up from the half shell, graced with a dollop of Tabasco, chased on their journey with a pull from a very cold 12-ounce brew. Still others were being tossed in a deep fryer wearing a golden coat of crispy batter.

As the phone with its headline was passed among the guests, a sudden silence descended on the event. People stared at their beloved oysters and, for a few moments, stopped eating (a sure sign of distress at a south Louisiana feed). That fear was soon replaced by sorrow, which quickly changed to anger.

Climate change reality had finally hit these folks where it hurt most: Their cuisine.

That first hint of fear, of course, was based on the assumption this oyster herpes was the same virus that causes humans so much shame and pain. But as they read the story, they realized this was not a heaven-sent alibi for philandering spouses (Honey, it as an oyster, honest!). This was strictly a worry for the bivalves.

But that was still worry enough. What struck me was how serious some folks were finally talking about climate change.

The second story with the Washington Post headline at first read seemed to be a double-edged sword for the seafood lover. After all, who could be against jumbo crabs?

But the story quickly disabused us of any good news. The bully crabs were wreaking havoc on the oyster population, further complicating Chesapeake's already struggling comeback from decades of demise.

And those jumbo crabs were all shell and no meat. As the story pointed out, "Carbon-absorbing crabs put all their energy into upgrading shells, not flesh -- like a mansion without much furniture. So diners might be disappointed years from now when they crack open huge crabs and find little meat."

In the past I've watched friends eyes glaze as I spread the news of glacial ice melt, explained eustatic sea level rise, the linear charting of high tide registrations, the methane release in melting permafrost, the convection rates of infrared waves, even attribution science, feedback loops and atmospheric blocking events.

But mention something they can see, feel and - most important of all - eat, and they're suddenly focused like a field trial champion on point.

All of which is why sportsmen have been among the nation's earliest and most active responders to the reality of climate change. It's hit us where it hurts most, in the things we love.

As I watched the dinner friends react to the news, I had to laugh at them coming so late to the reality we accepted year ago. It also made me feel like crying.