Motivating with oysters

Published on Thu, Mar 1, 2001 by Meg Olson

Read More News

Motivating with oysters

By Meg Olson

Drayton Harbor is poised to be the only body of water in the state’s history where oysters are planted in a prohibited area as an incentive to clean the water up.

“We have an initial green light from the state department of health,” said shellfish district chairman and project organizer Geoff Menzies. “Our main objective right now is to find a funding source.”

Working with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF), Menzies, Drayton Harbor’s last oyster farmer, is proposing a gamble: seed two acres of oyster beds closed due to fecal coliform pollution, and hope the promise of locally grown oysters rallies the community to clean up the harbor. “This sets a target date for when we need to have the harbor clean,” he said. If water quality standards are not good enough to harvest the oysters at the end of three years, they will be allowed to die off naturally. A local monitoring program would ensure no poachers harvest the potentially tainted oysters.

The project will be more than a pared down oyster farm. “The idea is to get the community more involved in the resource – get their boots muddy,” Menzies said. Local volunteers will participate in quarterly activities ranging from workshops on oyster biology and pollution sources to selecting a site and seeding it. “They’ll be involved in all aspects of farming as well as learning about water quality and the resource,” Menzies said. A growth rate study will also be incorporated in the project and PSRF will produce a videotape of the project and coordinate wider community education efforts.
With an estimated budget of $40,000 to $50,000 per year including cash and in-kind contributions, the project will draw together resources from state agencies, corporate donors and private individuals. Menzies said he expects the state department of natural resources, which owns the tidelands, to donate use of the two acres to be seeded. Rock Point Oyster Company has agreed to donate the seed, up to a $6,000 value, if there is leftover seed once commercial orders are filled. Trillium Corporation has agreed to donate moorage and Menzies’ now defunct Drayton Harbor Oyster Company, will throw in the boat. Menzies said they are now pursuing grant funding and donations to pay for gas, equipment, educational materials and a lot of rubber boots. The budget also includes part-time salaries for Menzies and PSRF coordinator Betsy Peabody.

“At this point our plan is to seed by this July, and our final harvest would be in the spring of 2004,” Menzies said, adding that Blau Oyster Company in Samish Bay had already offered to buy the potential harvest. “He said his shuckers had offered to come and pick because they make more money with Drayton Harbor oysters than any other,” Menzies said. “It’s because they’re fat oysters – you get a lot of yield.”

Should water quality improve enough by 2004 for the harbor to be opened for harvest, Menzies said a community oyster feed would be the first line of duty, followed by the sale of the remaining yield to fund other local water quality projects. Menzies expects the harvest could be worth $15,000 to $20,000. While the commercial value of the oysters falls short of the money invested in the project, Menzies said the goal is not financial gain. “The return on the investment is that we can get people who contribute to pollution to stop,” he said. “People need to see this area produce. They just pop out of the mud. It’s pretty impressive.”

Back to Top