Target: Dick Vander Schaaf of the Oregon Nature Conservancy
Goal: Commend the Oregon Nature Conservancy’s efforts to restore the Olympia oyster population
There is only one oyster native to the west coast of the United States: the Olympia. Unfortunately, it was harvested to the point of near extinction during the mid-1800s. Thanks to the work of the Oregon Nature Conservancy, there have been increases in the population of these oysters within the Netarts Bay in Tillamook County.
The reason this oyster came close to extinction is due to its superior taste, described by Chef Ethan Powell as an “…earthy flavor with hints of the wild mushrooms growing in coastal forests and finally, a coppery finish.” The oyster gained popularity in California during the Gold Rush, and was eaten in a variety of ways: roasted, fried, raw, and in soups, stews, pies, omelets, and patties. In order to meet the demand, suppliers turned to Washington and Oregon. By the 1900s, there were few oysters left in all three states.
The habitat the Olympia oyster thrives in includes shell reefs and oyster beds, most of which have disappeared from western coasts. However, Dick Vander Schaaf of the Oregon Nature Conservancy and biologist Alan Trimble of the University of Washington realized that Netarts Bay would be an excellent location to begin efforts to revive the Olympia oyster population.
The bay is shallow and covers less than four square miles. At low tide, it flushes almost dry, a favorable condition for oysters. The bay has suffered less degradation and pollution than other estuaries, and eelgrass, a plant oysters like, naturally grows in it. Another bonus, sixty acres of the bay’s tidal flats have already been designated by the state as a shellfish reserve.
The process of creating a favorable environment for the oysters involved creating a man-made shell reef and depositing barn-raised Olympia larvae into shells and then transferring these shells onto the man-made reef. The ultimate goal was to see the oysters reproduce on their own in the bay, an act that occurred for the first time in 2012. Now, there are 1.5 million oysters living in the bay, and it has not been seeded with barn-raised oysters. The progress seen indicates that, likely, the Olympia oyster population will continue to grow and thrive. Not only is this good for the oyster, but for the bay as well. Oysters filter the areas in which they live, creating a cleaner, healthier habitat.
By signing the petition below, you will commend the Oregon Nature Conservancy on its efforts to revive Olympia oyster populations.
Dear Dick Vander Schaaf,
The story of the near extinction of the Olympia oyster is saddening. No wild animal should be hunted or harvested to this extent. Oysters help the areas in which they live through their filtering work, creating cleaner and healthier habitats for all species. Your efforts to revive the Olympia oyster population deserve to be commended.
Although the process to revive the population required patience and hard work, yourself, the Oregon Nature Conservancy, and the University of Washington did not give up. This shows great commitment to the cause, as well as to the environment and wildlife as a whole. Thank you for your dedication.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: 663highland via Wikimedia Commons