It may not look like much, but there’s more to the Beauty than meets the eye.
Moored in Drayton Harbor, a mile or so offshore, the ironically named floating barge is home base for an oyster farming
operation that’s been shucking some of the finest oysters around for years.
When the tides are low, staff travel out to the barge by boat and harvest the oysters that have been growing in the murky tidewater. They’ll haul upwards of 200 dozen oysters each trip they make to the barge, and then sell them at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market or to Starfish Shipping, which takes the deep-cupped beauties to China.
“We haul two weeks’ worth at a time,” said new manager Steve Seymour. “Then we put them on ice and take them to town.”
Seymour took over operation of the farm in January after retiring from the state department of fish and wildlife. He was involved with the farm in its inception and worked closely with it in the early years before handing it off to former manager Geoff Menzies so he could pursue his career with the state. Now back at the helm, he’s got big plans for the tidal flats and the shellfish growing operation.
“My vision is that people driving along Peace Portal Drive will look down on the harbor and be filled with pride that there’s a great thing going on in their community. A lot of work and a lot of money has been spent to make this what it is today,” Seymour said of the farm. “Oysters have been growing here since the early 1900s, and over the past 20 years the Blaine community has really plowed a ton of resources into helping to clean up the bay, thanks to the efforts of Geoff and volunteers. They’ve done the work and laid the foundation. We’re just building on that.”
Seymour is looking to Bellingham
Technical College’s (BTC) fisheries and aquaculture sciences program for help as he considers what the future will hold for
the small community supported aquaculture farm (CSA).
“I’ve been involved with BTC for a number of years,” he said. “When I took over back in January, I realized I didn’t have a source of labor, so I talked to Earl Steele at the college and told him that Drayton Harbor could be wonderful opportunity.”
Now, he’s excited about the possibilities.
The oyster beds, which sit just below Peace Portal Drive in the Drayton Harbor mudflats, are part of a 20-acre plot that the
Puget Sound Restoration Fund has leased. Only about half an acre of that leased land is planted right now, Seymour said.
“We haven’t even scratched the potential,” he said. “There’s lots of room for expansion.”
Two years ago, Menzies planted 50,000 small oyster seeds in Drayton Harbor. This year, Seymour hopes to triple that number.
“We’d love to put out a quarter million seeds,” he said.
To do that, he needs to install what is called a flupsy, a floating upweller system, which is an efficient way of culturing small shellfish during their nursery stage. “We can buy 1mm seed, plant it in the flupsy, and in a month or two, it will have grown enough that we can plant it out in our grow system,” he said. The spat need to be at least 1/2-inch in diameter so it doesn’t fall through the mesh growing system used in the bay.
Oyster seeds can’t be planted directly into the mudflats because of oyster drills, a predatory sea snail that likes to snack on
the tender-shelled baby oysters. “It’s like a floating raft,” he said. “It has the seeds in it and it pulls the seawater through to feed them and keeps them off the ground. But it takes a fair amount of time and energy to maintain the flupsy,” he said. That’s where BTC comes in.
“Students have to do something like 300 hours of internships,” he said. “Our site offers them a great opportunity to delve into another realm of production and nursery care aside from the salmon nurseries. It’s labor in exchange for experience. It’s a nice marriage.”
Scott Smith, a BTC intern from the fisheries and aquaculture program, agreed. “I like being outside, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about the industry,” he said. Smith came from Olympia for BTC’s program, which has an 81 percent job placement rate for graduates. “Our hands-on experience with shellfish offers a uniqueness to the program,” Seymour said.
Seymour said that while they are moving forward and including educational opportunities like BTC internships and Garden of the Salish Sea curriculum through the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, the farm will still remain true to its roots as a CSA. “The farm will continue as a community farm, but with a whole other level of opportunity for those who want to learn,” he said. “There’s lots of opportunity to experiment out here.”
Drayton Harbor Community Shellfish Farm interns will be selling their harvest at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market through at least the end of May. They charge $8 per dozen.