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New shellfish hatchery opens in Manchester
More than 135 people turned out near the shores of the Puget Sound for the opening of the new shellfish restoration hatchery at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Manchester Research Station on May 22.
Representatives from federal, state, local and tribal organizations attended the event and ribbon cutting for the Kenneth K. Chew Center for Shellfish Research and Restoration. District 26 State Rep. Jan Angel, along with Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido and Port Orchard Mayor Tim Matthes were in attendance.
The $775,000 facility will have three full-time employees, but several part-time projects are being planned in several months.
The hatchery is a result of NOAA’s National Shellfish Initiative and the state’s Shellfish Initiative, the first state to pass such an effort.
In June 2011, NOAA launched a National Aquaculture Policy that included a National Shellfish Initiative to increase shellfish aquaculture for commercial and restoration purposes, stimulating coastal economies and improving ecosystem health.
Guided by the national effort, the state launched a new Shellfish Initiative in December 2011 to expand shellfish aquaculture and increase the availability of locally produced seafood, jobs in coastal communities, and improved habitat and water quality.
For more than 150 years, the state’s tidelands have served as productive farm beds for oysters, clams and mussels.
The shellfish industry brings in about an estimated $270 million and creates more than 3,200 jobs — primarily in coastal communities, according to NOAA.
Patriarch of shellfish research
Chew, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, spent years on shellfish research and aquaculture. In the 1970 and 1980s, Chew operated a small shellfish hatchery at the Manchester station.
“I’m in awe and I never expected it,” said Chew before the opening. “There is such a need for it and I pushed for a special research center for shellfish for more than 30 years.”
Chew, who taught a UW for 43 years, said he did a lot of time at the Manchester station working and studying shellfish, and teaching classes.
“It was perfect locations for students to come over here because of the ferries,” he said. “A lot of students gained a lot of instruction here.”
While at the university, Chew helped to start the mussel fisheries and developed students to help enhance the Manila clam farming and oystering.
“There was a lot of work done on clams and oysters,” said Chew. “I was interested in instruction and sharing information with the general public how important shellfish to the state.”
Olympia oysters population down
Dr. Mark Schaefer, assistant secretary of commerce for Conservation and Management for NOAA, noted that the Puget Sound’s Olympia oyster population was down to 4 percent of its historic levels.
Olympia oyster beds once inhabited about 10,000 acres in Puget Sound. The acreage of dense populations has declined 96 percent to approximately 400 acres.
“This is multiple wins for us,” Schaefer said. “We’ll be able to increase the genetically diverse populations of native Olympia oysters, expand the industry and create new jobs, advance clean water goals, protect shorelines, track and benefit other species, and deal with issues such as ocean acidification and habitat decline.”
He said the state is leading the nation in enhancing shellfish populations and how they benefit local communities.
“I hope what we’ve done here can serve as an example for others,” Schaefer said.
“This is a partnership between industries, universities, tribes, state, localities and federal agencies. That’s the way we are going to be doing things,” he added. “This is the way we should have been doing it in the past. We have to come together and find ways to level limited resources and build on our collective capacity.
The new hatchery will be staffed and operated jointly by NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, according to Schaefer.
The new hatchery features a high-capacity microalgae system to feed the oysters, clean flow-through seawater from nearby Clam Bay, a dry lab for computer and microscopic work, and a large greenhouse for maturing shellfish. The hatchery also is equipped to support research on life history, physiology and culture of Pacific Northwest shellfish.
Schaefer said oyster beds also are extremely important to the marine ecosystem, which can improve complex near-shore habitat, increase natural filtration, improve water quality and enhance larval production.
“Good oyster habitat will attract and benefit other marine species, including invertebrates and salmon,” he said.
NOAA signed a formal agreement with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), a Washington-based nonprofit organization, to collaboratively conduct and manage research and restoration activities at the native shellfish hatchery. PSRF, founded in 1997 by Betsy Peabody, restores marine habitat, water quality and native species in collaboration with industry, tribes, government agencies, private landowners and community groups.
Peabody, founder and executive director for the PSRF, said the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has designated 19 inlets and bays as priorities for native oyster restoration.
“Some of these areas no longer have remnant oyster populations or natural larval populations, so seed production at the hatchery is needed to kick-start these populations,” she said.
Peabody said once breeding populations are re-established and dense aggregations rebuilt, native oyster beds will provide structured habitat that supports multiple species, which are an important component of a healthy ecosystem with thriving fish populations.
“We’re trying to restore this intertidal habitat feature in historic areas,” said Peabody. “As filter feeders, Olympia oysters help cleanse local water and improve water clarity.”
She said the hatchery can help in the restoration of Pinto abalone, Bull Kelp, Rock scallops and other species in the future. As of ocean acidification, Peabody said she hope to learn more about the tolerance of various native species to ocean acidification conditions.
“We will also be producing oyster seed and propagating kelp to help mitigate ocean acidification in the marine system,” she said. “These were included as recommended strategies in the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification.”
Peabody worked for the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, King County, the Seattle Aquarium and local nonprofits.
She is president of the Pacific Shellfish Institute, a research organization developing and disseminating scientific and technical information to foster sustainable shellfish resources and a healthy marine environment.
Peabody also served as vice chair of the Bainbridge Island Harbor Commission until 2002 and has a bachelor’s degree in English from Stanford University.
John Stein, director of NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, located at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said the new facility would provide need space for native shellfish research and restoration.
“Work is underway for growing millions of native Olympia oyster larvae that will be planted in priority restoration sights around the Puget Sound later this summer,” said Stein. “In the future we will focus on restoration of other shellfish.”