Oysters are taking a tumble in the tides of Sequim Bay in a bid by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to produce a higher quality product for consumers.

“We’re using the tide to manipulate the oysters,” said Chris Whitehead, the tribe’s shellfish biologist.

Oyster tumbling involves stuffing young oysters into mesh bags, attaching a buoy and securing the bags to a single horizontal stainless steel rod held in place by rebar stakes driven into the muck at low tide. The oyster seed-filled bags pivot on the rod and float as the tide rolls in and sink back to the bottom as the tide recedes. The ebb and flow of the tides agitates the oysters from one end to the other, or “tumbles” them. The action mimics nature, encouraging the oysters to break off new growth at the bill, and harden their shells as they mature.

Tribal biologist Chris Whitehead adjusts a mesh bag of oysters on Sequim Bay.

Tribal biologist Chris Whitehead adjusts a mesh bag full of oysters on Sequim Bay.

The tumble bag system helps the Pacific oysters focus growth energy to the cup, rather than the bill; the latter is typical to the region. The deeper cup shell gives the Pacific oysters the look of Kumamoto oyster highly valued by consumers worldwide. The growing method has been used successfully at other shellfish growing operations throughout the region.

“This is a pilot study for us this year, but if we have a successful harvest this fall we may scale it up next year,” Whitehead said. Oyster farming has come a long way, from long-lining mother shells to suspending bags in several feet above the substrate to the tumble bag system, he added.

The tribe hopes to provide opportunities for tribal members to come and harvest from their native shores as well as to supply shellfish to enterprises such as the tribal casino, deli and golf course.

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For more information, contact: Chris Whitehead, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe shellfish biologist, at (360) 681-4630, or cwhitehead@jamestowntribe.org; Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or troyal@nwifc.org.