An oyster and you: Partners for a healthier bay | In Our Opinion

At the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Port Gamble S
At the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe clam/salmon bake Aug. 17.
— image credit: Richard Walker / Herald

S’Klallam master cook Brown Fulton placed staked sockeye salmon around a fire as shellfish steamed on a bed of coals. Kloomachin, the S’Klallam canoe, glided across a calm Port Gamble Bay, carrying guests who paddled in time with the pullers in front of them.

The S’Klallam people know this bay as Noo-Kayet, Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said. For thousands of years, Noo-Kayet provided the S’Klallam people with salmon and shellfish and other good things needed for good health and life. Newcomers who moved here beginning in the 1850s also enjoyed the bounty of the bay.

But today, the bay is not well. Marine resources were depleted by overharvesting. Industrial uses polluted the tidelands. Pilings, remnants of the mighty milling operation that reigned here for more than 140 years, leach creosote into the water.

But there is hope. And a symbol of that hope is a little, resilient critter called the Olympia oyster.

The Olympia oyster, small enough that it’s easy to miss unless you’re looking for it, is teaching us about the health of Port Gamble Bay.

At a gathering of neighbors at Point Julia Aug. 17, Betsy Peabody of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund held up an Olympia oyster, native to the bay and region. The Olympia oyster, once abundant, has survived 150 years of overharvesting, pollution and introduction of invasive species. It’s emerged as a symbol of what the future could hold for Port Gamble Bay.

The fund and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe are working together to boost the Olympia oyster population in the bay, which according to Peabody is 1 percent of its historic population.

Why is the Olympia oyster important?

Oysters are filter feeders. Each Olympia oyster out there in the bay is capable of filtering eight to 12 gallons of water per day. They filter food particles that are smaller than those filtered by Pacific oysters, an introduced species, and thus serve a different ecological role in controlling phytoplankton blooms. Filter feeding can help reduce the turbidity of sea water and promote nutrient balance.

Much has been done to improve the health of the bay. Pope Resources, which reports spending $10 million on environmental cleanup since the mill closed in the mid-1990s, could spend up to $14 million more on the final cleanup: removing or capping sediment in the bay, removing pilings and removing the old mill wharf.

When it comes to making Port Gamble Bay healthier, we’re going to need Olympia oysters for filter feeding and kelp beds for fish habitat as much as removal of creosote pilings and wood waste. The great news is, there is a lot you can do if you live on the water on Port Gamble Bay.

You can help reestablish an abundant Olympia oyster population.

The Puget Sound Restoration Fund wants to seed Olympia oysters in tidelands throughout the bay. Some of those seedings would require the permission of private-property owners, and would require some monitoring. Learn more at www.restorationfund.org. Or call (206) 780-6947.

The S’Klallam people are concerned about the health of the bay that once sustained them. But as Chairman Sullivan has said, we all benefit from a healthy Noo-Kayet.


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