We cultivate Olympia oysters, or ‘olys,’ in the Puget Sound, as conservation aquaculture.
Olympia oysters, ostrea lurida, used to thrive from Sitka, AK to Baja California. Overharvest in late 19th early 20th century reduced their numbers in Puget Sound. Today, their smaller size, longer maturation time, and complex flavor make them less attractive for commercial farming – though they hold a loyal following in the Washington state shellfish community! Olys are the West Coast’s only native oyster species. Olys will naturally reproduce, ‘set,’ and grow beds in Puget Sound and the coastal bays.
In summer 2022, we started our first aquaculture project, a hobby farm of about 300 oysters. Our present model is a non-commercial, informal partnership with private tideland owners. While olys are known for their unique flavor profile, our current goal is conservation aquaculture, not human consumption! We intend to allow our oysters to reach old age. We hope their lives help replenish wild stocks along the way.
Olys provide the Sound with rich environmental benefits:
- Olys form beds of porous, naturally engineered concrete, which serve as habitat for salmon smelt, small fish, and juvenile crabs.
- Olys feed on phytoplankton – microscopic marine algae. When one species feeds on another, the predator regulates the population of the prey. Too many phytoplankton means the waters experience unhealthy cycles of algae bloom and die-off, creating “dead zones.” Oysters regulate algae populations.
- Olys “upgrade” the algae they eat into complex proteins and nutrients. When the oysters are eventually eaten, they return these nutrients to the ecosystem.
If this pilot project goes well, we hope to partner with local tideland owners to create a network of small hobby farms for their ecological benefits. Further bulletins as events warrant!