Officials in Washington state’s Shellfish Program have
identified a clear pathway to meet a state goal of restoring 10,800
net acres of shellfish beds to a harvestable condition by 2020.
The 10,800-acre target, established by the Puget Sound
Partnership, was considered overly ambitious by many people when
the goal was approved in 2011. Many still believe that the
shellfish restoration effort will go down in flames, along with
other goals, such as increasing chinook salmon and killer whale
populations by 2020.
In reporting on the Shellfish Implementation Strategy, a
document still under development, I’ve learned that the goal is
within reach if enough of the ongoing recovery efforts around Puget
Sound continue to make progress. Please check out my latest stories
the shellfish back” and “Closing
in on the magic number in Samish Bay,” both published in the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Our native Olympia oyster may seem small and meek, but its
slow-growing nature may serve it well under future conditions of
ocean acidification, according to a new study.
In fact, the tiny Olympia oysters appear to reproduce
successfully in waters that can kill the offspring of Pacific
oysters — a species that grows much larger and provides the bulk of
the commercial oyster trade in Washington state.
Unlike Pacific oysters, Olympias don’t begin forming their
shells until two or three days after fertilization, and the
formation progresses slowly, helping to counteract the effects of
corrosive water, according to the author of the new study, George
Waldbusser of Oregon State University.
Betsy Peabody of Puget Sound Restoration Fund said people who
work with Olympia oysters have long suspected that they may have
some advantages over Pacific oysters. Olympia oysters keep their
fertilized eggs in a brood chamber inside the shell until the
larvae are released into the water about two weeks later.
In contrast, the eggs of Pacific oysters are fertilized in the
open water and the resulting larvae must fend for themselves right
While the brood chamber may protect the larvae from predators,
the new study showed that the brood chamber does not protect
against ocean acidification. Corrosive water still circulates
through the mother’s shell, exposing the larvae.
To test how Olympia oysters would do in open waters, the
researchers grew baby oysters outside the brood chamber where they
were exposed to acidified water, noted Matthew Gray, a former
doctoral student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He
is now conducting research at the University of Maine.
“Brooding was thought to provide several advantages to
developing young, but we found it does not provide any
physiological advantage to the larvae,” Gray said in an
OSU news release. “They did just as well outside the brood
chamber as inside.”
It appears that a major difference in the development of Pacific
and Olympia oysters lies in their reproductive strategies,
including differences in managing their energetics.
“Pacific oysters churn out tens of millions of eggs, and those
eggs are much smaller than those of native oysters, even though
they eventually become much larger as adults,” Waldbusser said.
“Pacific oysters have less energy invested in each offspring.
Olympia oysters have more of an initial energy investment from Mom
and can spend more time developing their shells and dealing with
The research team found that energy stores in young Pacific
oysters declined by 38.6 percent per hour, compared to 0.9 percent
in Olympia oysters. Pacific oysters put their energy into building
their shells seven times faster than Olympia oysters. The exposure
to acidified water affects shell development. While the larval
oysters may get through the shell-building stage, they often don’t
have enough energy left to survive, Waldbusser said.
Restoration Fund has been working for nearly 20 years to
restore Olympia oysters at 19 priority locations throughout Puget
Sound. The new study lends credence to the effort and support for a
recommendation by the 2012 Blue
Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. The panel called for
restoring the native oyster to Puget Sound to build resilience into
the ecosystem, according to Betsy Peabody.
“It was a recommendation that came out before we had the
critical science to support it,” Betsy told me. “He (Waldbusser)
has just given us the underlying research that supports that
recommendation. Our grandchildren may be cultivating Olympia
oysters rather than Pacific oysters.”
The panel, appointed by former Gov. Chris Gregoire, called for
maintaining the genetic diversity of native shellfish to provide
the species a fighting chance against ecological changes brought on
by climate change.
Benefits of the Olympia oyster, including so-called ecosystem
services, are described in an article by Eric Wagner in the
of Puget Sound. Healthy oyster reefs offer benefits such as
cleaning up the water, protecting shorelines from erosion and
increasing habitat complexity, which can expand the diversity of
So far, Puget Sound Restoration Fund has restored 50 acres of
shellfish to Puget Sound, working toward a goal of restoring 100
acres by 2020.
Oyster hatcheries in Washington state underwent a temporary
crisis a few years ago when Pacific oyster larvae were dying from
acidified seawater pumped into the hatcheries. The water still
becomes hazardous at times, but careful monitoring of pH levels has
allowed hatchery operators to overcome the problem. When the water
in an oyster hatchery moves beyond an acceptable pH level,
operators add calcium carbonate to alter the pH and support the
oyster larvae with shell-building material.
Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms said older oysters might be
affected in the future as ocean acidification progresses. “We know
things are going to get worse,” he told me.
Because of their small size and high cost of production, Olympia
oysters will never overtake the Pacific oyster in terms of market
share, Bill said, but they are in high demand among people who
appreciate the history of our only native oyster and its unique
The new research by Waldbusser raises the question of whether
the highly commercial Pacific oysters could be bred so that their
larvae grow slower and perhaps overcome the effects of ocean
Joth Davis, senior scientist for Puget Sound Restoration Fund
and senior researcher for Taylor Shellfish, said the market is
strong for a smaller Pacific oyster, so most growers would not
object to one that grows more slowly with greater survival.
Meanwhile, efforts are underway to maintain the genetic
diversity of Olympia oysters and other native species, as growers
begin to think about cultivating more natives. Transplanting
species from one area to another and boosting their populations
with hatcheries creates a potential to override local populations
and weaken overall genetic diversity, Joth said.
Geoduck clams, which can be started in hatcheries and grown on a
large scale, don’t appear to be genetically distinct from one place
to another in Puget Sound, Joth said.
Researchers have found some evidence that Olympia oysters may be
genetically distinct when comparing one area of Puget Sound to
another. But finding genetic differences does not always mean the
population is uniquely adapted to that area, Joth said. Variations
might relate to a random population that settles in a specific
location. Sometimes it takes careful study to make sense of the
Rich Childers, Puget Sound shellfish manager for the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the state currently has no
firm rules for transferring native species from one place to
another. With growing interest in cultivating Olympia oysters, sea
cucumbers and other native species, the agency is opening
discussions about what kind of controls might be needed.
“We’ve learned lessons from salmon that you can’t spread
everything from hell and gone,” Rich said. “Should we be looking at
some management or hatchery guidelines that would help maintain
genetic diversity? Should we have laws or policies? These are the
questions that are just starting to surface.”
A highly informative map, just released by state shellfish
officials, can show you at a glance where it is safe to harvest
shellfish in Western Washington.
Besides pointing out the locations of public beaches where
recreational harvesters may safely gather clams and oysters, the
map provides links to information about the approved
seasons and limits, with photographs of each beach. One can choose
“map” or “satellite” views, as well as enhanced images to simplify
If you wish, you can track down locations by searching for the
name of a beach, nearby landmarks or the address. You can obtain
the latest information about entire shorelines as well as specific
The map was created by the Office of Shellfish and Water
Protection, a division within the Washington State Department of
Jim Zimny, recreational shellfish specialist at Kitsap Public
Health District, said he expects the map to be updated immediately
when new health advisories are issued.
“It’s a great resource, very easy to use,” Jim said.
Jim works with state shellfish officials to collect shellfish
samples and report results, including findings of paralytic
shellfish poison, a biotoxin. Closures are announced when high
levels of PSP or dangerous bacteria are found. Hood Canal, for
example, is covered with the letter “V,” meaning one should cook
shellfish thoroughly to kill Vibrio bacteria, which can lead to
Since I generally write the geographic descriptions of shellfish
closure areas, I can assure you that looking at a map will be a
better way to see what is going on.
A news release about the new map points out that
the risk of eating shellfish increases in summer. That’s why it
especially important in summer to follow the three C’s of shellfish
safety: “check, chill and cook.”
Those three C’s refer to checking the map for health closures
and looking on the beach for warning signs; chilling the shellfish
to avoid a buildup of bacteria; and cooking to 145 degrees to kill
pathogens. (Cooking does not destroy PSP and other biotoxins, so
it’s important to avoid closed areas.)
Washington state now has an official state oyster, thanks to the
lobbying efforts of 14-year-old Claire Thompson, who raised the
prominence of the Olympia oyster as part as a school project.
That’s assuming, of course, that the governor signs the bill.
The bill designating Ostrea lurida as the state oyster first
passed the Senate Feb. 13 on a 47-1 vote. It was approved March 5
in the House, 94-4, after an amendment expanded the language of the
bill to this:
“This native oyster species plays an important role in the
history and culture that surrounds shellfish in Washington state
and along the west coast of the United States. Some of the common
and historic names used for this species are Native, Western,
Shoalwater, and Olympia.”
The Senate then agreed to the amendment and passed the bill into
law today, again on a 47-1 vote. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican
from Spokane, was the only dissenting voice in the Senate.
Opponents in the House were Reps. Richard DeBolt, Chehalis; Brad
Klippert, Kennewick; Jason Overstreet, Lynden; and Rep. Elizabeth
Scott, Monroe. All are Republicans.
When Claire testified on the Senate bill in the House Government
Operations and Elections Committee, she looked toward the future.
When she testified on the earlier House version, she was looking to
the past. You can hear her testimony in the viewer on this page, or
56:40 on TVW.
Here’s what she said, in part, to the House committee:
“The last time I came to testify I talked about the history of
this oyster. This time I would like to talk to you about what I
hope is the future of this oyster…
“I am only 14 and most of my life still lies ahead. To make my
future and the futures of all the kids who live around Puget Sound
better, I would like you to not only pass this bill but get as many
of these and other bivalves seeded and into the Puget Sound as
quickly as possible. This is because these oysters filter the water
and can help regulate harmful algal blooms, including the red tide.
By keeping algae down, they increase the overall oxygen content for
fish and crustaceans and all the other animals.
“In the large numbers that Puget Sound needs, these oysters can
link together to build coral-reef-like structures that provide an
ecosystem habitat of room and hiding for young sea animals and all
the kelps and sea plants that we are losing… Oyster beds this thick
keep sediments anchored and the entire Puget Sound in balance.”
Now it is up to Chinese officials to decide upon shellfish
imports to their country, as uncomfortable as that may be for U.S
exporters. I’ve begun to learn about international trade policies
to better understand the confusing actions of Chinese health
As you’ve probably heard by now, officials with the Washington
State Department of Health have concluded from a new round of
testing that arsenic in geoducks from Poverty Bay presents no
legitimate health concern. That seems to contradict findings from
Chinese health authorities, who cited high levels of arsenic in
Poverty Bay geoducks when they suspended shellfish imports from the
U.S. West Coast.
Unfortunately, the Chinese have failed to reveal how they came
to their findings, and they discarded all the geoducks used in
their tests. Divers from the Washington Department of Natural
Resources collected new geoducks from Poverty Bay, and state health
experts conducted new tests. The findings were released Tuesday,
and I covered that in some detail in a story published in
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription). Also, check out
Water Ways, Dec. 24, to understand the different types of
Results from the Washington state health lab showed that arsenic
levels in all parts of the geoduck came in under the Chinese limit
of 0.5 parts per million, except for the skin. Dave McBride, a
toxicologist for the state health department, told me that cooks in
both China and the U.S. blanch the geoduck to remove the inedible
skin, so that’s not a factor.
But even if one consumes the whole geoduck, tests on the “whole
body” found only one composite sample out of 12 that exceeded the
Chinese standard. Of course, it would have been more convincing if
none of the whole-body samples came in above 0.5 ppm.
A private lab also tested geoducks from Poverty Bay, and those
results came in even lower. The differing findings probably
resulted from the different methods used, Dave McBride told me. It
might be wise to try to reconcile the differences and report the
scientific uncertainty (possible range) represented by the two
Meanwhile, I’ve begun talking to experts on Chinese trade, who
say it is not unusual for governments around the world to use
alleged health concerns to gain a trade advantage.
As I reported in yesterday’s story, the U.S. Trade
Representative, a presidential cabinet post,
reported to Congress at the end of last year about what
appeared to be unjustified health concerns blocking a variety of
agricultural imports into China:
“In 2013, serious problems have remained for U.S. exporters, who
are faced with nontransparent application of sanitary and
phytosanitary measures, many of which have appeared to lack
scientific bases and have impeded market access for many U.S.
“China’s seemingly unnecessary and arbitrary inspection-related
import requirements also continued to impose burdens and regulatory
uncertainty on U.S. agricultural producers exporting to China in
2013 … Products most affected in 2013 included poultry, pork and
Dongsheng Zang, a University of Washington law professor who
specializes in Chinese trade, and Debra Glassman, faculty director
of the UW’s Global Business Center, helped me understand the trade
situation for yesterday’s story. Here are some of the key points I
came away with:
Chinese officials don’t always base their decisions on the best
evidence,, even though agreements under the World Trade
Organization require them to do so. In 2011, China stopped imports
of oysters from Washington state following reports of a few people
getting sick from eating raw oysters from Hood Canal. Zang says
Chinese officials based their actions only on “media reports.”
Import bans often come quickly and take a long time to resolve.
That happens not just in China but in other countries and the
European Union, especially when the dispute must be resolved by the
World Trade Organization.
International agreements require that any import restrictions
must be the “least-trade-restrictive” to protect the public, such
as banning shellfish from specific bays where problems are
identified, Glassman said.
The Chinese ban on U.S shellfish could be designed for a
domestic audience inside China. “I can only speculate,” Zang said.
“Food safety is a huge issue in China. It’s really hard to say
whether this (geoduck ban) is about public health or domestic
An official in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative in
Washington, D.C., told me (on background) that the office is
watching this issue closely. If the shellfish ban develops into a
full-fledged trade dispute, that office will become involved.
I realize that geoduck harvesters and government officials don’t
want to accuse the Chinese of acting inappropriately. They just
hope that the ban will be lifted without a drawn-out dispute.
Meanwhile, those in the industry are losing millions of dollars by
being shut off from their most important market for the giant
I was looking about for some jokes and stories involving
shellfish, mainly about clams and oysters with maybe a few quips
about mussels. All I could find was either too raunchy, too
childish or just plain lame.
What I did discover on YouTube, however, is that clam chowder is
funnier than clams, and oyster stew is funnier than oysters.
First, in the video player at right, is “The Clam Chowder Song”
by Thessaly Lerner, whose comedy is all over the place, including a
series of bits she calls Ukulady, geared mainly for
A classic seafood battle is Curly’s skirmish with the oyster in
a Three Stooges comedy that I remember from years ago. I was happy
to find it posted on YouTube with context from the story. If you
want to skip directly to the oyster part, you’ll find it at
While not about oyster stew, I found a poster I want to share
for the oddity of it all (below). The poster is one of three used
in an ad campaign to raise awareness about the plight of the
homeless. The campaign, launched by the German magazine “Biss,”
shows one person inside the shell of a snail, another inside the
shell of a turtle and a third inside the shell of an oyster a clam. Below each
image are the words, “Nature doesn’t provide everyone with a home.”
AdPunch for details.
Although I wasn’t able to locate enough worthy shellfish jokes
to share, you may find some amusement in previous “Amusing Monday”
postings about shellfish:
Work on the Washington State Shellfish Initiative is shifting
into high gear, as I learned yesterday during a meeting of the
Shellfish Initiative Advisory Group.
The initiative is being directed by a “core group,” made up of
representatives from seven state and federal agencies. Advice is
coming from a much larger advisory group in quarterly meeings like
the first one yesterday. See
“Purpose Statement” (PDF 44 kb) for details.
During the meeting, the group reviewed progress on a work plan
that includes more than 30 different tasks, each assigned to a
small working group. I made notes on many of the projects, which
I’ll share with you in future news stories or blog entries.
I did focus on one Kitsap County project with relevance for the
entire Puget Sound region: a new oyster hatchery at Manchester
Research Station to produce baby Olympia oysters. It will be
part of an ongoing effort to restore the native Olympias. See the
story I wrote for
today’s Kitsap Sun.
One anonymous person commented at the bottom of the story: “Hey,
an organization that actually accomplishes something! Keep up the
good work and don’t get bogged down in doing studies and producing
reports that no one will read or respond to.”
I understand why people are sometimes frustrated by the planning
that seems to go on and on. But without planning, I’m not sure who
would grap the limited money. Without planning, the projects would
have no focus and the work would be done haphazardly.
One of the most encouraging things is an attempt to expand
Kitsap County’s Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC)
Program to other counties, with increased funding for cleaning up
the waters. Check out the story I wrote for
last Friday’s Kitsap Sun, in which I describe the
search-and-destroy mission against bacterial pollution.
As most Water Ways readers know, I’ve been following the ongoing
monitoring and cleanup effort by the Kitsap County Health District
for years with the help of Keith Grellner, Stuart Whitford, Shawn
Ultican and many others in the district’s
water quality program. In fact, just two weeks ago, I discussed
what could be a turnaround for a chronic pollution problem in
Lofall Creek, a problem that has taken much perseverance to
Kitsap Sun, Dec. 2.) Unfortunately, the story is far from
I’ve talked about the importance of old-fashioned legwork in
tracking down pollution, and I’ve suggested that other local
governments use some of their stormwater fees or implement such
fees for monitoring of their local waters. See
Water Ways, June 30, for example.
Water free of fecal pollution has benefits for humans and other
aquatic creatures. Thankfully, Washington State Department of
Health’s shellfish program is
careful about checking areas for signs of sewage before certifying
them as safe for shellfish harvesting. Maybe the new shellfish
initiative will allow the state to open beds that have been closed
for years. That’s what happened in Yukon Harbor, where more than
900 acres of shellfish beds were reopened in 2008. (See
Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25, 2008).
Certifying areas as safe for shellfish harvesting means that
waterfront property owners are safe to enjoy the bounty of their
own beaches. It also offers an opportunity for commercial growers
to make money and contribute to the state’s economy.
Of course, this does not mean that intensive shellfish-growing
operations ought to be expanded to every clean corner of Puget
Sound, any more than large-scale crop farming or timber harvesting
should be allowed to take over the entire landscape.
Some environmentalists have expressed concern that the
Washington Shellfish Initiative could become a boondoggle for
commercial shellfish growers. Laura Hendricks of the Sierra Club’s
Marine Ecosystem Campaign sent me an e-mail noting these concerns
about the expansion of aquaculture:
“Washington State has more native species listed as endangered
than any other state in the USA. We see no mention of the adverse
impacts in this initiative on nearshore habitat, birds and juvenile
“Governor Gregoire and the various speakers failed to mention
that ALL of the pending shoreline aquaculture applications they
want to ‘streamline’ are for industrial geoduck aquaculture, not
oysters. Red tape is not what is delaying these applications…
“Shellfish industry lobbyists who pushed for this expansion are
silent on the following three serious threats to our fisheries
resources, forage fish, birds and salmon:
“1. Shellfish consume fisheries resources (zooplankton —
fish/crab eggs and larvae) according to peer reviewed studies. A
DNR study documented that forage fish eggs did not just stay buried
high on the beach, but were found in the nearshore water column.
Continuing to allow expansion of unnatural high densities of
filtering shellfish in the intertidal “nursery,” puts our fisheries
resources at risk.
“2. The shellfish growers place tons of plastics into Puget
Sound in order to expand aquaculture where it does not naturally
3. Mussel rafts are documented to reduce dissolved oxygen
essential for fish and are known in Totten Inlet to be covered in
invasive tunicates with beggiatoa bacteria found underneath…”
Ashley Ahearn of KUOW interviewed Laura Hendricks, and you can
hear her report on
Have intensive shellfish farms in Puget Sound gone too far in
their efforts to exploit the natural resources of our beaches? Can
shellfish farmers make money without undue damage to the
environment? Which practices are acceptable, which ones should be
banned, and which areas are appropriate for different types of
Other research in our region is needed as well, although it is
clear that environmental trade-offs will be part of the deal
whenever commercial interests cross paths with natural systems. For
a discussion about this issue, check out the executive summary of
the NOAA-funded publication Shellfish
Aquaculture and the Environment (PDF 4.2 mb), edited by Sandra
Needless to say, we’ll be keeping an eye on this process for
years to come.
Washington state will receive $417,000 as the result of
agreements with three shellfish growers who had planted clams and
oysters on state land, as I reported in a story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
These encroachments onto state tidelands were deemed
unintentional, and the growers will be allowed to keep their
shellfish in place until they mature. After harvest, the growers
will pay the agreed-upon assessment.
These three latest cases and an earlier one essentially dropped
into the lap of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Two
were identified by area residents, and two were identified by one
of the growers.
I first started writing about this issue two years ago, after
Taylor Shellfish Farms was found to be encroaching onto state
tidelands. At the time I suggested in
Water Ways that it may be time to open this Pandora’s Box and
determine where all such encroachments can be found.
Since then, the state has elected a new public lands
commissioner, and Peter Goldmark appears willing to slowly open
this box and take a look inside.
Aaron Toso, spokesman for DNR, told me yesterday that agency
staffers are developing a computer model that will help prioritize
where to search for possible encroachments onto state tidelands.
For a variety of reasons, some areas have been surveyed better than
others, and it makes sense to start with areas where the state is
likely to recover some money.
The state is not subject to adverse possession law, so I suspect
DNR will be able to recoup the cost of the effort — although I was
told two years ago that the money recovered goes into the Aquatic
Lands Enhancement Account, which can’t be used to search for
encroachments. If true, that means DNR must find the money
elsewhere in its budget to conduct the search. Perhaps the
Legislature could remedy the problem by allocating a percentage of
the money recovered to this effort until everyone is satisfied that
the growers are staying on their own property.
While the state is not subject to adverse possession, there may
be some legal disputes with the state over the meaning or intent of
the original deeds. That may be one reason why DNR officials have
been reluctant to open this Pandora’s Box. And, since private
landowners do fall under the potential for adverse possession, we
may see some growers claiming ownership to private tidelands where
the original owners simply failed to defend their property
I anticipate that DNR officials will experience some strife as
they pry open Pandora’s Box. But I prefer a version of the mythological
story in which the box also holds the power to defeat all the
evils and usher in an era of harmony. That power is called
Brief note: I was on vacation last week.
Did you miss me? I managed to write a couple blog entries and keep
up on the news for the “Water, Water Everywhere” listing at the top
of this page. But vacations tend to pull me away. So now I’m back
on the job. By the way, does anybody check the listings for water
news, research findings, government actions or upcoming events? I’d
like to know if someone finds this feature useful.
It was not a huge surprise that Northwest tribes rejected nearly
half the commercial shellfish beaches put forth by commercial
growers. We’re still talking about the $33 million legal
settlement, of course. See my story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
What it comes down to, I believe, was an eagerness on the part
of commercial growers to get a settlement using state and federal
dollars. Without an agreement, the parties would have faced turmoil
as they tried to figure out how the tribes could gain access to
commercial beaches and how they would take advantage of “natural”
production around cultivated shellfish without destroying the
livelihood of an entire industry.
Given what has taken place, I suspect that most people involved
wish that specific properties had been named in the settlement
agreement, rather than resorting to a list of criteria that allows
for subjective judgments about which properties meet or do not meet
If the wrangling over properties had taken place before the
agreement was signed, would things have come out different? If
today’s frustration by growers had been experienced before the
agreement was signed, would there even be an agreement today?
Tribal officials knew that the settlement agreement was not
going to allow every beach to qualify as a commercial shellfish
bed. Now we can see where the tribal lawyers are headed. We don’t
yet know, however, whether other tribal leaders will allow for more
Every one of the 864 parcels submitted by the growers is unique,
and at least half of them could be the subject of long and involved
arguments about whether they qualify under the agreement. So far,
I’ve chosen not to take the considerable time it would require to
lay out all pro and con arguments for any property.
Instead, let me give you an example of how there can be gray
areas in this dispute. Dave Steele, who has worked with many
growers, says he has seen cases similar to this:
A group of neighbors who own tidelands get together and hire an
experienced person to harvest their beaches. The owners split the
proceeds. The area has been certified as safe by state health
officials, but the beaches were never officially listed as a
shellfish farm. Different companies harvest the beaches in
different years, but they don’t keep records for individual
parcels. The beaches may be planted. Folks may take steps to
exclude starfish and other predators. The owners get a steady
income year after year.
Does this sound like a commercial shellfish operation, or just a
bunch of residents selling shellfish from their beaches? What are
the key elements that make it commercial or strictly
This is how the arguments are stacking up. If nothing is worked
out, a federal judge could be faced with going through this kind of