Tribes, Shellfish Growers and Partners Support Olympia Oyster Restoration in Hood Canal

The Skokomish Tribe partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Pew Charitable Trusts this spring to participate in a national oyster restoration program, Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR).

The SOAR program is part economic relief and part habitat restoration: the goal is to support local growers by purchasing native oysters to be used in nearby restoration projects that benefit shellfish habitat and water quality.

The tribe received adult Olympia oysters from Set and Drift, a Hood Canal shellfish farm. The majority of the oysters were spread on the tribe’s tidelands near the mouth of the Skokomish River. A subset was placed in a bag on the tidelands with a water temperature monitor, which will be checked in a year.

“It’s great to place these oysters in different areas so we can see how they respond in terms of spawning and growth. It allows us to determine where Olympia oysters do best on the Skokomish tidelands and southern Hood Canal,” said Blair Paul, a Skokomish Tribe shellfish biologist. “We know already they prefer to be further out on the tidelands while Pacific oysters prefer to hang out closer to shore.”

This project is just one of many in a nationwide effort by TNC and Pew to purchase more than 5 million surplus native oysters from farmers that have been impacted by pandemic closures, and use them in nearby restoration projects, said Molly Bogeberg, the Washington state lead for TNC’s SOAR project.

The native Olympia oyster is important to the tribe as a traditional food source, while the shell is used in traditional clothing. These shellfish also are important to Puget Sound as they create a unique habitat for intertidal species and are prey for crabs, juvenile salmon, seasonal birds and small marine life.

Pollution and overharvest since the late 1880s nearly destroyed the population, in addition to being crowded out by Pacific oysters, Paul said. For the past few years, the tribe has been restoring the Skokomish tidelands to support the Olympia population, in partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Paul said.

The tribe spread clean oyster shell across the tidelands in 2017 to evaluate movement of substrate and establish a hardened surface for future seeding. In 2018, they spread 400 bags of seeded oyster cultch in the same area to monitor population growth.

A bag of adult Olympia oyster from Set and Drift, a shellfish farm in Hood Canal. The Skokomish Tribe distributed these oysters on its tidelands as part its restoration efforts to boost the Olympia oyster population. T. Royal