Skip Navigation

Recovery of the Olympia Oyster in Kitsap County

Highlights in Conservation icon

Recovery of the Olympia Oyster in Kitsap County

Barge loaded with 500 cubic yards of Pacific oyster shells will become the remnant shells oyster larvae attach to for their growth cycle.

Barge loaded with 500 cubic yards of Pacific oyster shells will become the remnant shells oyster larvae attach to for their growth cycle.

Location icon
Kitsap County, near Poulsbo

Project Summary icon
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) funds, along with monies provided by several other partners, were used to help restore habitat for the Olympia Oyster in Liberty Bay.

Conservation Partners icon
There were many partners involved in this project. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) worked with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) who owned the property.  The Hood Canal Oyster Company donated equipment and operators, and the Russell Foundation provided additional funding.

Resource Challenges icon
Once an abundant shellfish in the Puget Sound, the Olympia oyster was decimated in the early 20th century by overharvesting and pollution. With increased development around Puget Sound, excess nitrogen (largely from septic systems) created algae blooms which died and settled to the bottom, covering the oyster reefs. This caused a smooth, slick surface that is uninhabitable by the oyster larvae. Young oysters attach themselves to the jagged surface of remnant shells and slowly grow to maturity, taking approximately three years. Because of the unique nature of this growth process, discarded shells of processed oysters is a valuable resource for maintaining optimum habitat for oyster spat. Each oyster can filter 9-12 gallons of water per day through their feeding process, making the Olympia oyster one of the keys to restoring the natural functions in the sound.

Conservation Program Used icon
Using WHIP funding, along with monies from partners and organizations, Betsy Peabody with PSRF was able to organize the efforts of many people to make this project a success. Jim Hayes, owner of the Hood Canal Oyster Company, used his boat to push the barge, donated by the US Navy, filled with oyster shells to the spreading area. Once on site, several volunteers took a turn at the water cannon which was used to "wash" the shells off the barge and into the sound. The cost of spreading the shells was approximately $38 per cubic yard.  WHIP contributed 75 percent towards the purchase of shells, hauling them to the site, and spreading them across the oyster beds. About 1000 cubic yards of shells were spread on two acres of WDFW tideland creating a "shelf" for the young oysters to grow and develop.

Innovations and Highlights icon
The PSRF chose Liberty Bay for oyster recruitment because of the small clusters of Olympia oysters found growing nearby. The plan is for spat from wild oyster beds to seed this new bed being developed. According to Peabody, allowing the wild Olympians to seed the area themselves instead of planting hatchery-raised spawn will help preserve the genetic integrity of the native oyster population. These oyster reefs are important not only as oyster habitat but they also provide an environment for crustaceans and microorganisms that are food for salmon, herring, candlefish, and even gray whales. "Overall it is a small oyster, but it can have a huge impact on the health of an estuarine ecosystem such as Liberty Bay," she said.

Results and Accomplishments icon
Through studies in two other areas of the Hood Canal, it was determined that at least 8" of oyster shell was necessary to overlay the mud substrates effectively requiring 500 cubic yards per acre of shell fragments. WDFW biologists have been monitoring the site since it was treated ten months ago. According to WDFW, oyster spat densities have increased considerably with counts of 10-12 oysters per square meter. Monitoring efforts in the years ahead will clearly enable additional estimates of native oyster abundance for this site.

Contact icon
Dan Larsen, Soil Conservationist (360) 337- 4433

NRCS, Spring 2008