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In a project that completes a 10-year goal for establishing Olympia oysters, Hilary Hayford of Puget Sound Restoration Fund sprays shell from a barge into Liberty Bay
Photo: Puget Sound Restoration Fund

Puget Sound Restoration Fund meets 10-year, 100-acre goal for restoring native oyster beds

A heartfelt congratulations goes out to Betsy Peabody, her staff at Puget Sound Restoration Fund, and the dozens of partner organizations working to restore our native Olympia oyster to Puget Sound.

PSRF recently fulfilled its ambitious 10-year goal of enhancing habitat for the petite, succulent oysters across 100 acres of Puget Sound tidelands, establishing a foothold for future regeneration of even greater populations.

I first met Betsy as the Olympia oyster project was getting off the ground in 1999. Her enthusiasm and vision for the future caused me to fall in love with these little oysters. Check out my first story package on the native bivalve titled “The World is Our Oyster”:

Betsy herself is a petite but powerful sparkplug whose enthusiasm for the natural world inspires people to push through obstacles that get in the way. She can tell a story as well as anyone, which has led me to learn about many wonderful environmental issues through the years.

Pacific oyster shell, shown here on a barge, will help to create habitat for Olympia oysters. Photo: Puget Sound Restoration Fund

I should also mention that one of Betsy’s greatest character traits is to surround herself with the best experts she can find. She does not hesitate to refer reporters to scientists with intimate knowledge of the topics at hand.

For the first 10 years, Puget Sound Restoration Fund went about learning about the needs of Olympia oysters. Experimental plots were seeded with oysters in numerous locations. Some projects succeeded; others failed. By 2010, many practices and techniques had been worked out to successfully grow the finicky little oyster.

Betsy and her staff came to realize that the key to re-establishing a dense bed of Olympia oysters was to create a substrate upon which oyster larvae could attach themselves. The empty shells of Pacific oysters, which were acquired from oyster growers, became the material of choice, thanks to a pivotal observation by Brady Blake of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. See “Plan for Rebuilding Olympia Oyster Populations in Puget Sound with a Historical and Contemporary Overview” (PDF 480 kb).

In 2010, the idea of restoring 100 acres of Olympia oysters seemed like a monumental task. At the time, only 150 acres of dense aggregations of native oysters were known to exist in Puget Sound, according to experts with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Since then, a few other areas have been found.) Before white settlement in the 1800s, between 10,000 and 20,000 acres of native oysters may have been around.

“The year 2010 was a big turning point for us,” Betsy told me. “With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we began setting our sights for that larger goal. We put together some large workshops with growers and tribes and others.”

Puget Sound Restoration Fund was coming off a successful shellfish-recovery effort in Drayton Harbor, where the three-year goal was challenging and very specific. (Check out the story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.)

“We said, ‘Hey, let’s go big. Let’s see if we can reach 100 acres by 2020,’” Betsy recalled. “It was always intended to be a collective goal, and it has been a collective effort.

“There have been many moments along the way when I have wondered privately if we were going to make it. How are we going to do it? We always found a way forward.” said Betsy, adding that partners always stepped in to help restore this oyster.

“Olympia oysters are much beloved,” she said. “Plus, they’re a foundational piece of the Puget Sound estuary. Who could say No to that?”

The final project to meet the goal was completed last month in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo. Check out the engaging story map on the PSRF’s website.

Partnering with public and private expertise has been a mainstay of the organization, and Betsy declares that “private thinking” has helped to keep her eyes on the prize and avoid aimless and ongoing efforts.

“You’ve got to set the goal, invest yourself and make it happen by hook or crook,” she said. “Hopefully, you can engage your partners in trying to achieve the goal.”

Betsy and her cohorts have never stopped learning about Olympia oysters. They are getting better at establishing new populations, with success building upon success. The key, she says, is to find suitable habitat for the native oysters or else rebuild it within the “nooks and crannies” of various bays and inlets throughout Puget Sound.

“We are really developing our scientific assessments with pre-survey work … then going back and documenting what happened to adaptively manage (the sites),” she said.

PSRF is now working on a “habitat-suitability index” — a tool that can help predict whether a particular location will work well for Olympia oysters.

Anyone can get involved in the project, starting by searching out what is growing in nearby bays and inlets. The “Olympia Oyster Field Guide” provides the tools for an enjoyable “Olympia oyster treasure hunt,” Betsy said. There is still much to be discovered.

As the Olympia oyster project has moved forward, PSRF has expanded its restoration efforts to:

So now that the 10-year, 100-acre goal has been met, what’s in store for Puget Sound Restoration Fund? I guess there will be no slowing down.

“We have set ourselves toward the next five-year goal of 50 acres,” Betsy declared.

While I would love to go on about all the stories written through the years about Olympia oysters, I will stop here and list the projects that allowed PSRF to meet the 100-acre goal, along with links to related information:

Dogfish Bay, Kitsap County, 10 acres, 2000-11
Kitsap Sun

Fidalgo Bay, Skagit County, 4.5 acres, 2002-18
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound
Skagit Valley Herald
Skagit County Marine Resources Committee

Scandia, Kitsap County, 10 acres, 2005-11
Kitsap Sun

Oyster Bay, Kitsap County, 0.5 acres, 2011

Palela Bay, Squaxin Island Reservation (Mason County), 2 acres, 2011
Associated Press

Sequim Bay, Clallam County, 2 acres, 2012-2019
Seattle Times

Kiket Lagoon and Lone Tree Lagoon, Skagit County, 2 acres, 2012-2017

Drayton Harbor, Whatcom County, 6 acres, 2014-19

Port Gamble Bay, Kitsap County, 10 acres, 2014-2016
Kitsap Sun

Quilcene Bay, Jefferson County, 2 acres, 2016
The Leader, Port Townsend

Smith Cove, King County, , 0.5 acres, 2018
Queen Anne and Magnolia News

Chico Bay, Kitsap County, 5 acres, 2018

Sinclair Inlet, Kitsap County, 15 acres, 2019
Watching Our Water Ways – Kitsap Sun

Annas Bay, Mason County, 2 acres, 2020

Liberty Bay, Kitsap County, 15 acres, 2020
Kitsap Sun

Early scattered plots, 14 acres, 1999-2009

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