SKOKOMISH (June 23, 2004) – Olympia oysters are slowly making a comeback in lower Hood Canal. The once-abundant oysters – western Washington’s only native oyster – are nearly flourishing at a couple sites within the Skokomish River estuary.
In 2002, the Skokomish Tribe planted Olympia oysters in plots throughout the Skokomish River estuary. The plan was to reintroduce the once-abundant species to Hood Canal. Two years later, that effort is showing some signs of success.
“We’re seeing good survival and good growth of Olympia oysters at some of our sites where we have reintroduced the species,” said Eric Sparkman, shellfish biologist for the Skokomish Tribe. “Our main goal is to bring back the Olympia population to the point where they are successfully reproducing and repopulating the area. And while we are seeing some success, that overall goal will still take some time.”
A victim of western expansion, the Olympia oyster has all but disappeared in Puget Sound. In the mid-1800s, demand throughout the West for the tasty shellfish was so great that the Olympia oyster population was nearly wiped out by over-harvest. To keep up with the demand for oysters, the ever-growing industry began importing larger Pacific oysters, which quickly took over cultivated beds once home to Olympia oysters. As western Washington continued to grow, development and industries – such as pulp and paper mills – also contributed greatly to the decline of the Olympia oyster populations.
Indian tribes in western Washington have always valued the Olympia oyster. The Olympia was not only an important source of food for the coastal Indians in the area, but the oyster also was a valuable trading item.
Although, far from being recovered, the Skokomish Tribe is optimistic that further work can help bring back an Olympia oyster population that can be rebuilt to support tribal and non-tribal harvests. Harvesting Olympia oysters is currently prohibited.
The brood – or parent – oysters for the Skokomish Tribe’s project were collected from beaches along Hood Canal and spawned at a state shellfish laboratory in 2002.
In addition to the Skokomish Tribe, the Lummi Nation and the Suquamish, Squaxin Island and Jamestown S’Klallam tribes are working with others to help restore Olympia oysters to Puget Sound’s beaches. Those involved in the restoration project include the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources and Taylor Shellfish Farms.
“Going in, we knew Olympia oysters could survive in the area because they’re native to this region,” Sparkman said. “But we weren’t sure if they could repopulate the area. It’s looking good though. Not every oyster lived, but a number of them did, and some of them appear to be reproducing.”
For more information, contact: Eric Sparkman, shellfish biologist for the Skokomish Tribe, (360) 877-5213, [email protected]. Darren Friedel, information officer for the NWIFC, (360) 297-6546, [email protected].