Washington Peninsula--For 150 years Willapa Bay is all about Oysters

By The Editor

The oyster has always been a dramatic force in the history of Washington's Long Beach Peninsula. Willapa Bay was the source of oysters which became a great source of wealth to many early settlers.

In 1853 an oyster boom developed to supply the gold miners and people of San Francisco's insatiable demand for the delectable shellfish. And it created a town called Oysterville which in the 1880s was considered one of the wealthiest communities on the West Coast.

While we were at the Peninsula we had the opportunity to interview Katherine Driscoll who with her husband operate Oysterville Sea Farms.

This is a family that has been in the business for three generations with a fourth generation member due to arrive soon. The native Willapa Bay oyster was almost extinct by 1900 forcing those who wished to remain in the oyster business to consider other options.

The result was the introduction of the Japanese oyster. Oyster seeds were imported from Asia and oyster farming became the new method of operation. The Japanese oyster is the most widely cultured oyster in the world and is now raised from Vancouver Island to California as well as in Alaska, New Zealand, Australia and Chile.

We learned that oyster farming is a very labor intensive business and that most are harvested when from 3 to 5 years old. The oyster can grow to a foot in length but most are harvested when the shell is about 6 inches long.

As practiced at Oysterville Sea Farms it is a completely recycled business. The shells of harvested oysters are bound together in bundles and then returned to the bay bottom so new oyster seeds can attach themselves. The seeds will also attach to rocks on the bay bottom.

Oysterville Sea Farms uses the a method called bottom culture with reefs formed from the old shells. A second method is an off bottom culture with longlines, racks, rafts and poles for raising the seed called spat.

At Oysterville Sea Farms oysters are harvested at low tide every day of the year except holidays and average between 3 and five years in age.. Once picked they are washed and sorted by size either small or medium.

Katherine Driscoll has created a retail store which is adjacent to the oyster beds on Willapa Bay and oysters, fresh or smoked can be purchased on premises. She now also sells other Peninsula produced products like Preserves and Condiments as well as Spices, Cereals and baking mixes.

Oysterville Sea Farms in located in Oysterville and welcomes visitors.

If you wish to enjoy more views of Wallipa Bay take Highway 101 north at Seaview.

Allow extra time for this scenic route for you will pass on the eastern side of Willapa Bay with wonderful views of Long Island and the birds and wildlife.

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Last Update:10/1/99

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