Celebrating A Comeback!
After eight years, native oyster restoration project seeing results in Netarts Bay
Netarts Bay, Oregon | April 29, 2013
A native oyster that cleans the water and provides habitat for marine plants and fish is making a comeback. Some are even calling it an oyster explosion at Netarts Bay.
“Overharvesting in the 1800’s nearly wiped out the native Olympia oysters,” says Dick Vander Schaaf, the Conservancy in Oregon’s associate director of coast and marine conservation. “To stay in business and provide food for our tables, commercial oyster growers imported a non-native oyster, known as the Pacific oyster from Japan.
In 2005, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery to bring back the Olympia oysters – the only native oyster in the West.
“To feed on algae, each silver-dollar sized creatures filter up to 25 gallons of water a day!” adds Vander Schaaf. “Their filtering effectively cleans the water. When you multiply 25 gallons by a million oysters, you get a very powerful filtration system on your hands. Plus, their shells form reefs which provide a home for marine life including juvenile salmon and starry flounder.”
The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery played a key role in supporting the restoration effort. “When we heard about the Conservancy’s idea of recovering the native oyster back to the Oregon coast, we jumped in to help by offering our equipment and support on the front end,” says Sue Cudd, Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery owner. “Bringing back the natives will be a win for all of us by producing jobs in our community and building resilient bays and estuaries.”
Using techniques perfected with the hatchery, The Nature Conservancy started reintroducing young oysters eight years ago. Every spring, with the help of volunteers adult oysters are dumped into huge tanks. Free-swimming larvae are collected as they are released from the adults. The larvae are fed in the hatchery until they are ready to settle. Mesh bags filled with clean oyster shells are placed in the tanks and the mature larvae attach themselves to the shells. Then, the shell bags are transported to Netarts Bay, where the young oysters mature into adults.
“It’s taken eight years, but now we’re seeing the fruits of our labor,” says Vander Schaaf. “Young Olympia oysters have been spotted in several places around Netarts Bay. This is a sign of success for our efforts. While we celebrate, we recognize we have a lot of restoration work to do.”
The goal is to place enough oysters in suitable habitats that they can maintain a self-sustaining population. The Olympia oyster is becoming so popular that oyster growers are beginning to plant them for commercial harvest. Soon they will be gracing menus in west coast oyster bars.
“Olympia oysters are sweet and packed with flavor,” says Jin Soo Yang, Bamboo Sushi Executive Kitchen Chef. “The burst of flavor that you get comes as a surprise because they’re so petite. They also draw certain flavors from wine and sake because of the way the high mineral content affects the palate.”
To learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Oregon, visit nature.org/oregon.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org