The ocean is becoming more acidic and fossil fuel emissions are making it worse. That can be lethal for oyster larvae because it inhibits their ability to form shells.
But there is one variety of oyster that seems to be more able to adapt to that change. A small, family-run growing operation in Olympia has made growing it a priority.
“The Olympia Oysters are more resilient to ocean acidification, which is strange because they seem to be hypersensitive to pollution in general,” says Shina Wysocki, the farm manager at Chelsea Farms who decided to start growing the smaller native species when the opportunity arose a couple years ago.
“In this one case they seem more resilient than the Pacifics,” she says.
Smaller than the more common naturalized pacific oysters (which Chelsea Farms also grows), Olympias are the only oysters that are native to the west coast of the United States. Wysocki says they taste different too.
“They’re like little powerhouses of flavor and oyster-ness,” she says. “They have a very strong horseradish-y, coppery, flavor that gives them kind of like a zing. So they have a very big pop of flavor, compared to a Pacific which is much creamier and milder. They’re just a different species.”
They were headed toward extinction because of over-harvesting and pollution, until restoration efforts began a few decades ago. Commercial growing is part of that effort, and Wysocki says getting people to enjoy eating them helps them feel connected to the need for clean water and stewardship.
“There’s nothing closer to the Salish Sea than eating oysters from it," she said.
To see more photos and read more about how the Olympia oyster sustained the communities that formed around the Salish Sea, visit our Return To The Salish Sea website.