Tribal Students Learn About The Simple Life of Oysters

Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribal students recently learned how easy it is to grow their own shellfish, just like a garden.

A Suquamish High School student tosses bucket of oyster larve into a saltwater tank.

Viviane Barry, a tribal shellfish biologist, showed students from the Suquamish-based tribal high school how Pacific oysters are easily seeded.

“This type of hands-on stuff is relevant to what is going on in their tribes,” said teacher Bob Kirk. “These students often have clam and oyster bakes with their family and during ceremonial events but it’s important to understand where the resources come from.”

With 500,000 tiny oyster larvae donated by Taylor Shellfish Farms, Barry placed a couple hundred under a microscope for the high school students to examine. Students saw that the wriggling oyster larvae had a foot (like a clam’s) with which the oyster secretes a cement-like glue to attach itself to hard objects as they metamorphose into the final oyster stage.

After examining the larvae, the students took turns dispersing them into a large seawater tank filled with empty oyster shells. The larvae set on the shells and stayed in the tank for about a week during which the students fed them a concentrated algae solution and observed changes in the color of water. The algae food quickly darkens the water, but within 24 hours the water is clear, evidence that the oysters are feeding.

“I’ve never seen this kind set up before for oysters,” said Ricky Sullivan, 17. “I’ve planted seeds for clams but never for oysters.”

Toward the end of June, students helped spread the oysters on the beach by the old tribal center and will be able to watch the progress over time.

“It’s beneficial to teach students that they can easily grow food that the tribe depends on,” Barry said. “If they can grow oysters themselves, it’s like growing a garden. It’s very easy to do while also learning about shellfish and the importance of water quality.”


For more information, contact: Viviane Barry, Suquamish Tribe shellfish biologist, at (360) 394-8448 or [email protected]; Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected]