Leaders launch second phase of Washington Shellfish Initiative

NOAA Fisheries officials joined Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Washington tribes, shellfish producers and others to announce the second phase of the Washington Shellfish Initiative, a partnership led by Washington State to promote the environmental and economic value of shellfish from oysters to abalone.

The initiative began in 2011 and has led to new research and recommendations on ways to protect and promote Washington shellfish. The second phase of the initiative will include new steps to improve water quality, prepare for and address the impacts of ocean acidification, assess impacts of harmful algal blooms, and rebuild native shellfish stocks, such as Olympia oysters and pinto abalone.

“Everyone who has dug a clam at the beach or savored an oyster at dinner understands how essential shellfish are to the environment, culture, and economy of the Pacific Northwest,” said Will Stelle, Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “The Washington Shellfish Initiative has supported important new research and actions, from restoring pinto abalone in Puget Sound to cleaning up marine waters, and we’re determined to continue to build on that momentum.”

Washington  leads the nation in commercial shellfish production, harvesting 10,616 metric tons of oysters, clams, and mussels worth about $184 million in 2013. Shellfish growers in the state employed more than 1,900 employees and supported more than 810 other jobs indirectly. Shellfish also provide environmental value by filtering and cleaning coastal waters and supporting the rich marine food web in Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, pollution has led to the closure of some shellfish beds in the state, and some native species, such as Olympia oysters and pinto abalone, are imperiled. The Washington Shellfish Initiative built on NOAA’s National Shellfish Initiative with local steps to address threats to both wild and farmed shellfish and to promote healthy, abundant shellfish for tribal, commercial, and recreational harvest.

Accomplishments of the Washington Initiative so far include:

The second phase of the initiative will continue progress on those fronts. For instance, a Marine Resources Advisory Council appointed by Governor Inslee will track implementation of the Blue-Ribbon Panel’s actions on ocean acidification. The Council will work collaboratively with stakeholders, elected officials, and tribal governments to carry out the actions on the ground.

The second phase will also include continued work to re-establish breeding populations of Olympia oysters in priority recovery areas in Puget Sound. Research at the shellfish restoration hatchery will also inform other shellfish restoration activities in Washington and along the West Coast.

“We have completed the action items in the first phase, and that has brought some very important progress,” said Laura Hoberecht, Aquaculture Coordinator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “This second phase will continue that progress and renew our commitment to the resource.”

Home page photo: SeaGrant

Learn more about the Washington Shellfish Initiative

Fact sheet: Washington- A Shellfish State