Jamestown Shellfish Hatcheries Address Ocean Acidification and Oyster Populations

Ocean conditions have the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe concerned about shellfish survival rates and treaty harvesting rights.

“Tribes aren’t able to harvest oysters like they once did,” said Kurt Grinnell, Jamestown council member. “We just don’t get the natural shellfish recruitment like we used to.”

To address these concerns, the tribe has started its own shellfish hatcheries at Point Whitney in Brinnon and Kona, Hawaii. The tribe also has two large shellfish nurseries called floating upwelling systems (FLUPSYs) at the John Wayne Marina in Sequim. Currently, the program provides locally grown oyster seed for restoration efforts on area beaches, as well as for purchase by shellfish growers. Income from this program goes back into tribal programs.

Grinnell and Jamestown shellfish biologist Ralph Riccio point to several factors when it comes to shellfish survival rates, ranking ocean acidification as the top concern.

“The major take-home is that larval shellfish can’t make it,” Riccio said. “Ocean acidification is making it hard for the tiny organisms to make it through the most important stage of their life. They can eat as much algae as they can, but with current ocean conditions, such as the decreasing pH of the water, they cannot eat enough to get the energy they need to grow their shell and increase body mass.

“Ocean conditions are affecting the shellfish industry as a whole, and thus going to affect the tribal members’ ability to harvest and exercise their treaty rights.”

FLUPSY manager Matt Henderson pours oyster seed into a sorter, where oyster seed is sorted by size through gentle vibration.

The decision to start the Kona hatchery addressed the ocean acidification concerns. The ocean chemistry in Hawaii provides better water quality conditions needed for larval survival than in Washington where the water can be more acidic.

“In Hawaii, you can get a 10-15 percent success survival rate whereas here, it’s maybe a couple percent,” Grinnell said. “Again, our water conditions in Washington state just aren’t what they used to be to support the shellfish life cycle.”

Adult oysters from Oregon State University’s Molluscan Broodstock Program are used in Kona to produce oyster larvae.

The oyster larvae then are shipped to the Point Whitney hatchery and the FLUPSYs for growout. The tribe’s FLUPSYs can hold 12 to 18 million oyster seed.

The hatcheries and FLUPSYs are providing the best conditions possible for shellfish to survive during their early growth stages, Grinnell said.

“It’s not easy work. I hear from elders about not getting enough seafood from the tribe. Our intertidal shellfish are suffering but we are working on it.”