Nobody was really talking about designating an official “Washington state oyster” until 14-year-old Claire Thompson came along. Now the state Senate has approved a bill, on a 47-1 vote, to list the Olympia oyster as the state’s official oyster.
Claire is an eighth grader at Olympia’s Nova School, which requires a yearlong project involving something that students care deeply about and can make a difference. Claire, who hopes to become a marine biologist or oceanographer, developed a sense of history for the once-prominent Olympia oyster, as we learned from her testimony before the Senate Governmental Operations Committee.
The full testimony on SB 6145 falls between 40:00 and 51:00 in the video on this page.
“Pollution near historic beds caused many closures of the fishery and rallied the oyster farmers to fight for the earliest pollution control regulations for clean water and cleanup,” Claire told the committee.
Ostrea lurida, the scientific name for the Olympia oyster, is the only native oyster to the region. The Pacific oyster, imported from Japan in the 1920s, makes up most of the production today, but the tiny Olympia is making a comeback as a unique delicacy with natural ties to the region.
Claire talked about ocean acidification, caused by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and its ongoing threat to the ecological health of Puget Sound, Hood Canal and other bays and estuaries.
“Ostrea lurida,” she said, “stands as a living symbol of Washington’s history, from the earliest Native Americans through the pioneers down through statehood to the present day, deserving protection as our native oyster. Please join me in fighting to protect not only our native oyster but our waters as well.”
Claire is the daughter of Rowland Thompson, lobbyist for Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, who encouraged her to develop her project and speak before the Legislature.
Jim Jesernig of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association said he supports the bill, even though it came as a surprise to his group.
“We have been very pleased working with Claire,” Jesernig said. “It’s very interesting. From the industry, we did not see this. We were working on derelict vessels and a whole bunch of things going on. Claire has worked with folks in Willapa Harbor and the South Sound. We would like to support this in any way.”
If next approved by the house, the Olympia oyster will become the official state oyster, joining:
- The orca, the official marine mammal;
- The Olympic marmot, the official endemic mammal;
- The willow goldfinch, the official bird;
- The steelhead trout, the official fish; and
- The common green darner dragonfly, the official insect.
By the way, Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a nonprofit group, has been working for years to restore the Olympia oyster to Puget Sound. I first wrote about this issue in 1999 in a piece called “Native oyster making a comeback — with help.” A companion piece about the taste of the little oyster was titled “Olympia Oyster Gains Respect.” I also presented the tribal perspective in “Tribal Officials Welcome Oyster Restoration.”
Since then, Puget Sound Restoration Fund has helped rebuild native oyster populations in many bays, with one of the greatest successes in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo. Betsy Peabody, executive director, told me this morning that her group has great hopes for success in Dyes Inlet near Silverdale and in Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap. A new oyster hatchery in Manchester is expected to be in operation later this year.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a long-term restoration plan for the Olympia oyster with 19 areas listed for habitat restoration:
Bellingham Bay (South) Shoreline, Portage Island, and Chuckanut Bay
Port Gamble Bay
Union River/Big and Little Mission Creek(s) deltas
Liberty Bay and sub-inlets
Dyes Inlet and sub-inlets
Point Jefferson-Orchard Point complex of passages and inlets
Harstine/Squaxin Islands complex of passages and inlets