Reviving the Olympia oyster


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
July 4, 2011

Rowan Jacobsen, author of the robust oyster connoisseur reference “A Geography of Oysters,” is a student of history as well as an aficionado of gourmet foods.

In his 2009 book, “Living Shore: Rediscovering a Lost World,” Jacobsen recounts a small-boat journey he took with marine researchers to British Columbia seeking rare beds of Ostrea conchaphilia, known commonly as the Olympia oyster, or Oly. Years of overharvesting and pollution had devastated the mollusk, a vital link in the Pacific Northwest’s fragile ecosystem and Native American culture.

“Olys were always an important part of the scene in Puget Sound, feeding humans and other animals, keeping the water clean and providing shelter for numerous tiny creatures,” Jacobsen writes. “But in Puget Sound most remaining Oly populations are tiny and semi-functional, often dependent on human structures, such as dikes, for their tenuous existence.”

The path to past prominence for the Oly is likely to be a long one. Not only are populations a fraction of their historic peaks, the species is also notoriously slow growing, needing at least four years to reach market size of at least 2.5 inches. With the aid of a researcher who guided Jacobsen in his quest for the “Oly grail” of wild oyster beds — they found it — as well as a prominent Seattle shellfish restaurant, the bivalves stand a fighter’s chance of earning top billing on raw bar menus once again.

But to do that, they’ll need a foundation on which to grow.

Click here to read the rest of the story on the Olympia oyster, which was written by SeaFood Business Associate Editor James Wright and appeared in the magazine’s June issue.

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