The Skokomish Tribe is restoring native Olympia oyster habitat in the Skokomish estuary.

Tribal shellfish staff spread 2 yards of clean shell substrate across the tidelands last fall to evaluate movement and establish a hardened surface for future seeding.

“We want to see if this shell will recruit native oysters and determine if and how much the tides will shift the material,” said Blair Paul, the tribe’s lead shellfish biologist.

In the spring, the tribe will collect broodstock and work with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) to spawn it at the shellfish lab in Manchester.

While larvae develop, they attach to broken adult oyster shells known as cultch. The tribe will spread 400 bags of oyster cultch on the tidelands next fall and monitor population growth.

This project has seen strong support by the tribal members to restore one of the traditional foods and materials used in jewelry that has been around since time immemorial, Paul said.

Olympia oysters are native to Puget Sound. Pollution and overharvesting since the late 1880s have nearly destroyed the population. Less than 5 percent of the historic range of this species produces natives.

Oysters are important prey for crabs, juvenile salmon, seasonal birds, and small marine life.

The effort is a multi-year project under a USDA shellfish bed restoration and management program, and in partnership with PSRF.

Skokomish Tribe shellfish staff toss oyster shells on the Skokomish tidelands at high tide to create a better habitat for oyster growth. Photo: Tiffany Royal