Olympia oysters are big players in our ecosystem, culture, and history here in Washington, notwithstanding their diminutive size. Collaborative rebuilding efforts are a reflection of that. Olympia oyster restoration in Puget Sound is a BIG, collective enterprise inspired and powered by Tribes, shellfish growers, federal, state, and local agencies, foundations, Marine Resources Committees, tideland owners, and countless others. Fledgling efforts began in 1999, guided by Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s 1998 Olympia oyster stock rebuilding plan. We learned quickly that LOTS of people wanted to engage in rebuilding our beloved native oyster, for all kinds of reasons. After all, who wouldn’t want to recover living shorelines full of historic resources of ecological and cultural importance? So, we’ve basically been running to keep up with this project ever since. In addition to managing larger-scale, on-the-ground work to restore oyster bed habitat, PSRF operates a conservation hatchery with NOAA, established in 2014. The hatchery enables us to produce and outplant Olympia oyster seed in priority areas in order to re-establish breeding populations. This is an important precursor to restoring oyster bed habitat in areas where Olympia oysters have been lost. All told, these actions help implement specific recommendations of both the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification and the Washington Shellfish Initiative. A core team advises this work, including: Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, NOAA, Baywater, Inc., University of Washington, Swinomish Tribe, and Northwest Straits Commission. Our larger galaxy of Olympia oyster partners is listed below. A special thanks is owed to all of the writers, reporters, videographers and storytellers who have chronicled the many stages of this wonderful journey.
Our goal for Olympia oyster restoration in Puget Sound is to rebuild dense, breeding populations in historical areas of abundance, to restore structured oyster bed habitat and ecosystem services that dense accumulations of living oysters provide.
10-year, 100-acre goal
In 2010, PSRF set the ambitious goal of restoring 100 acres of Olympia oyster habitat by 2020 through collaborative efforts at priority locations in Puget Sound. By the end of 2019, we had collectively restored 84 acres through a combination of stock rebuilding and shell enhancements. In 2020, we are on track to surpass our goal with a 15-acre shell enhancement project in Liberty Bay and two seeding projects. We gratefully salute the many tideland owners, partners and funders who have made this possible. Look to celebrate the 100-acre milestone with us this fall as we cross the finish line and set our sights on the next ambitious goal.
Dogfish Bay is a small, 50-acre bay within Liberty Bay where PSRF and partners conducted pilot seeding projects 2000 – 2006, followed by annual shell enhancements 2007 - 2011. When we began stock rebuilding in 2000, native oysters counted in the hundreds. In 2017, breeding oysters at this historic site numbered over 6 million. Olympia oysters are now the dominant species and structure in the lower intertidal, likely spanning over 10 acres, with millions of oysters providing significant estuary filtration in this semi-enclosed embayment.
Olympia oysters are sparsely distributed across most of their historic range. Our objective is to increase the number of oysters until populations become self-sustaining. One of the primary ways we do this is by producing restoration-grade Olympia oyster seed for outplanting into the wild. We first collect broodstock Olympia oysters from geographic basins in which we have restoration projects planned. This broodstock is then brought to our conservation hatchery, the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration at NOAA’s Manchester Research Station, which serves as a hub for producing millions of baby oysters for outplanting. Next, we induce spawning in the broodstock, and then capture and rear the resulting larvae, either as single oysters, or as spat-on-shell. For the latter, we pump the larval oysters into large setting tanks filled with bags of Pacific oyster shell, which the larvae settle onto. The oysters are fed throughout the process with a well-balanced diet of microalgae that we produce in our Greenhouse. Last stop? Back out onto the tideflats to jump-start our native oyster populations! To learn a bit more, enjoy an oldie, but goodie – this short video of our 2011-2012 restoration work in Port Gamble Bay.
PSRF partners with tribes, industry, government, scientists, and community groups to create habitat for Olympia oysters in Puget Sound. We do so by spreading Pacific oyster shell in the lower intertidal area to provide structure for natural settlement of larval Olympia oysters and to re-establish oyster bed habitat. The Pacific oyster shell is sourced from oyster farmers in Washington, and then sluiced off barges at priority restoration areas in Puget Sound. Catch a glimpse of shell sluicing during our 15-acre enhancement project in Sinclair Inlet in 2019 in the video below.
You can directly support our Olympia oyster enhancement work by purchasing a cubic yard of oyster shell for $50. Click here and note “for oyster shell” in the special instructions. Thank you!
PSRF began the Olympia oyster Recruitment Monitoring program in 2014. It has expanded every year since thanks to many partners. “Recruits” are juvenile oysters that settle onto substrate and grow into adult members of the population. To track recruitment in locations of interest around Puget Sound, we deploy recruitment stations (stacked Pacific oyster shells on wooden dowels) in early summer, when Olympia oysters typically begin to spawn, and collect the stations in early fall. We can then count how many juvenile Olympia oysters have settled on each shell face at each recruitment station. This provides a snapshot of oyster population dynamics at sites all around the Sound, which in turn helps us make decisions about where to focus our restoration efforts. It is fascinating to see which embayments are the big performers from year to year! Recruitment monitoring at far-flung places would not be possible without the help of our many partners.
PSRF is developing a systematic assessment pathway as well as a habitat suitability index (HSI) to guide restoration work in WDFW priority areas. Draft results for the Liberty Bay HSI are shown at right. These assessment tools measure both oyster population outcomes and ecosystem benefits. The completed pathway and HSI will be publicly available so that our process can be adapted by any organization sharing the following objectives:
- Use the best available quantitative data for selecting restoration sites within priority areas including the newly developed Olympia oyster HSI
- Identify which enhancement techniques are most suitable for each unique project
- Determine when oyster populations are self-sustaining
- Assess ecological impacts of the restoration
- Connect local communities to the restoration process
As a habitat-forming species, Olympia oysters can have a large impact on the ecological functioning of the larger community and ecosystem. Benefits provided by the structure of healthy Olympia oyster populations include:
- Shelter and food, serving as a nursery for species, some of which are important prey for salmon
- Water filtration, moderating excessive nutrient loads
PSRF is developing methods to assess these benefits. Please contact us if you are interested in expanding this work!
One of the great joys of Olympia oyster restoration is time spent hobnobbing and celebrating “Olys” with others who share our love for this small but mighty critter. From scientists on the mudflats, to slurpers and storytellers who enliven and chronicle our many oyster adventures, the people part of the equation is core to rebuilding a healthy marine ecosystem full of “Olys” and other living resources!
ON THE HORIZON
There is so much underway, and much more to do. Here are some of our focal areas in coming years:
- Restored oyster beds provide advantages that have not been quantified. We are always interested in forming new partnerships to explore the full suite of habitat benefits!
- We also aim to identify shared goals of Olympia oyster and other priority restoration species, such as eelgrass and salmon, to develop projects with even larger positive impacts across marine communities.
- Community involvement is critical to our work, and we are actively seeking ways to increase and improve that involvement & impact so that benefits from our work accrue to Washingtonians and beyond.
- A Variety of Approaches for Incorporating Community Outreach and Education in Oyster Reef Restoration Projects: Examples from the United States. DeAngelis et al., 2019. In: Smaal A., Ferreira J., Grant J., Petersen J., Strand Ø. (eds) Goods and Services of Marine Bivalves. Springer, Cham
- A guide to Olympia oyster restoration and conservation: Environmental conditions and sites that support sustainable populations. Wasson, K. et al., 2015.
- Native Olympia Oyster Collaborative (NOOC) webpage and storymap
- Northwest Straits Commission Olympia oyster restoration webpage
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Plan for Rebuilding Olympia Oyster (Ostrea lurida) Populations in Puget Sound with a Historical and Contemporary Overview. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2012
- Reestablishing Olympia oyster populations in Puget Sound, Washington. Washington Sea Grant, 2005
- Native oysters make comeback, thrive again in Puget Sound. United Press International, 2020.
- Northwest Oystermania. PBS, Mossback’s Northwest, 2020.
- Climate Change Was Killing Northwest Oysters. Growers and Scientists Fought Back. Bitterroot, 2019
- Olympia Oysters making a comeback in Disco Bay. Port Townsend Leader, 2019.
- The tiny but mighty Olympia oyster regains a foothold in Washington waters. The Seattle Times, Pacific NW Magazine, 2019
- Native Olympia oysters expected to gain a new foothold in Sinclair Inlet. Kitsap Sun, 2019
- Return of a native: Olympia oysters are making a comeback. Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, 2019
- 3 tons of oysters planted in Seattle’s Elliott Bay to clean water. King5, 2018
- Food, innovation and resilience in the face of climate change. The Seattle Times, Pacific NW Magazine, 2018
- The Decades Long Comeback of Mark Twain’s Favorite Food. Smithsonian Magazine, 2012
- A God amongst oysters. Edible Seattle, 2003
- Olympia oyster field guide, PSRF, 2015
- Olympia oyster biology and history handout. Swinomish Tribe, 2015
- Northwest Straits Olympia oyster restoration fact sheet. Northwest Straits, 2014
- Olympia oyster filtration time lapse video. Chloe Jenniches, 2014
- Olympia oyster restoration in Puget Sound. PSRF, 2012
- Olympia oyster restoration: Spotlight on Port Gamble Bay, PSRF, 2012
- First Contact: A motley team of researchers encounters the Native oysters of Nootka Island and learns a thing or two, Rowan Jacobson, 2008
PARTNERS & FUNDERS
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (State Resource Manager)
- Tribes (Shellfish Co-Managers)
- Suquamish Tribe
- Skokomish Tribe
- Squaxin Island Tribe
- Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
- Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe
- Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
- Samish Indian Nation
- Nisqually Indian Tribe
- Lummi Nation
- Northwest Indian College
- Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
- Shellfish growers
- Taylor Shellfish
- Hood Canal Oyster Co.
- Calm Cove
- Olympia Oyster Co.
- Drayton Harbor Oyster Co.
- Rock Point Oyster Co.
- Chelsea Farms
- Hama Hama
- Seattle Shellfish
- Chuckanut Shellfish Farm
- Little Skookum Shellfish Growers
- Minterbrook Oyster Co.
- Pacific Seafood
- Sound Fresh
- Set & Drift
- Brenner Oyster Co.
- Nick Jones Family Farm
- Blau Oyster Co.
- Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association
- Government Agencies
- NOAA Community-based Restoration Program
- Northwest Fisheries Science Center & Manchester Research Station
- U.S. Navy
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (NRCS)
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
- Washington Department of Natural Resources
- Washington Department of Ecology
- Washington Conservation Corps
- Washington Department of Health
- Counties (Kitsap, Skagit, Thurston, Jefferson, Clallam, Whatcom)
- Port of Seattle
- Port of Poulsbo
- Port of Brownsville
- City of Poulsbo
- City of Anacortes
- Kitsap Public Health District
- Thurston Conservation District
- Henderson Inlet Shellfish Protection District
- National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
- Rose Foundation
- Benjamin & Margaret Hall Foundation
- Charlotte Martin Foundation
- Buster and Nancy Alvord Fund at Seattle Foundation
- Burning Foundation
- Seattle Foundation (GiveBig, Donor Advised Funds)
- Quail Roost Foundation
- Safeway Foundation
- Fish America Foundation
- The Russell Family Foundation
- Bob Kuehlthau Family Foundation
- East Kitsap Community Salmon Fund
- Marine Organizations
- The Nature Conservancy
- Northwest Straits Commission
- Northwest Straits Foundation
- Marine Resources Committees
- Skagit County MRC
- Jefferson County MRC
- Clallam County MRC
- Whatcom County MRC
- Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) Washington
- NOOC – Native Olympia Oyster Collaborative
- Pacific Shellfish Institute
- Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve
- Puget Soundkeepers Alliance
- West Sound Local Integrating Organization (Puget Sound Partnership)
- Companies, Business Groups & Events
- Elliott’s Oyster House (Oyster New Year)
- Walrus & Carpenter Picnics (Taylor Shellfish)
- Bainbridge Organic Distillers
- Alki Oyster Fest
- Confluence Environmental
- Delta Marine
- Miller Brewing Company
- Kiana Lodge
- Proud Pour
- Oyster Tracker
- Fred Hill Materials
- East Bremerton Rotary Club
- University of Washington
- Vancouver Island University – Centre for Shellfish Research
- Washington Sea Grant
- Washington State University, Meyer’s Pt.
- University of Chicago
- Private donors & tideland owners (countless)
- Writers, reporters, film-makers
Post Script: If we’ve forgotten any of our wonderful partners, please contact us right away so we can set the record straight.