Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) are the only native oyster on the temperate West Coast of North America from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico. These small oysters are found in estuaries and quiet embayments.
They are an integral part of our living shores, creating habitat for small creatures and providing food for many species, including crabs, fish and birds. As filter feeders, they also contribute to nutrient cycling in bays and estuaries and may increase water clarity, benefiting aquatic vegetation.
For many centuries, they were eaten by indigenous peoples and later by European settlers.
Overharvesting, pollution and habitat modification resulted in steep declines in Olympia oyster populations along the coast. Non-native species that were accidentally introduced prey on or compete with native oysters, further reducing populations. Now nearly all of the oysters sold for food on the West Coast are other species, such as the Pacific oyster (native to Japan) and the European oyster which are raised in aquaculture farms. However, remnant populations of native oysters remain, even in highly urbanized estuaries.
Along the West Coast, communities are working to restore this iconic species. For example, in Puget Sound, juvenile native oysters are raised in an aquaculture facility to replenish natural populations. In Netarts Bay, Oregon where the species had been locally extinct, scientists were able to re-establish a population. In San Francisco Bay, native oysters are being incorporated into living shorelines projects which create habitat and aid in shoreline protection. Working together across the oyster’s range, sharing successes and lessons learned, we are helping this resilient oyster rebuild.
For more information about Olympia oysters and what is happening locally, click on the links below.