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October wine dinner


Jamestown Seafood

Something new that's thousands of years old

"When the tide is out, the table is set" is an old saying still used in S'Klallam tribal homes; a good portion of their diet has always been Salish Sea shellfish and finfish. Seafood was also a trade item for the tribes, and Jamestown Seafood, in various forms, has existed since settlers wanted to buy seafood from natives at the beach at Jamestown.

In the 1980s, the Tribe bought and restarted the Oyster House at Cline Spit as Jamestown Seafood, harvesting and selling oysters, clams and crab to restaurants. In the '90s, they bought the lease for Dungeness Bay to build their oyster business, and also started harvesting geoduck. Tribe member Kurt Grinnell was one of the first geoduck divers. He eventually became the Tribe's Geoduck Manager, branching out into other shellfish ventures, including oysters. By 1997 the water quality in Dungeness Bay became an issue and they stopped growing oysters and began cleaning the bay, partnering with other entities like the State of Washington to ensure success. Ten years and over two million dollars later, the bay is usable again, although it has not yet been re-permitted.

Twelve years ago, the Tribe was the driver of a restoration project on the Jimmy Come Lately Creek. "When roads were built, the natural path of the creek was changed. The creek couldn't breathe when moved and it changed the ecosystem and beach," explains Terri Grinnell, Kurt's wife and business partner. "The project to restore the creek was completed ten years ago and Sequim Bay is now pristine. Staff biologists monitor the bay constantly to ensure it stays that way." An oyster-growing pilot program put in place by the Tribe was taken over six years ago by Kurt and Terri.

They started with geoduck seed, plus a 500-flip-bag oyster operation left over from the pilot program. They now have 11,000 flip bags and 2,000 ground bags as well as a couple of acres of bottom oysters, without nets. "It was touch-and-go getting the build out," recalls Kurt. "We had to get to know the beach and how the creek deals with rain events; sometimes the water would go right through the farm and we would have to re-do it." While learning through experience, they also had help. "Taylor Shellfish helped us by providing seed, then we contracted with them for crews. They were great to work with," says Terri.

News stories abound about ghost shrimp burrowing into and ruining beaches for clams and oysters. That's one reason flip bags are used, either tied to buoys so they "flip" with the tide or on the beach. "With beach bags, you must be vigilant," explains Kurt. "The bags keep the shellfish off the ground, but they can break loose in the wind. Bags are expensive, and labor is intensive. It's a seven-day-a-week job with no time off, working nights as well. In terms of using chemicals to get rid of shrimp, it's a difficult issue. We don't have many shrimp now, but they do spread. We won't use chemicals, although we can see why others want to. People have a different perspective on aquaculture than they do on agriculture. Most people will eat an apple that's been sprayed, but they won't eat an oyster that's been treated."

Climate change is another issue. It has made naturally spawning and growing oyster seed difficult, so they have hatcheries in two spots: Point Whitney in Brinnon, Washington, and Kona, Hawaii. The Tribe is now the full owner of the Point Whitney shellfish hatchery. "Once the seed is robust enough, it is shipped here. It has to be able to withstand the conditions, like ocean acidification, pollutants. It's something we watch carefully in all seafood. Our elders would eat fish every day; we're like the canary in the coal mine. Toxins in the water and fish cause problems in people who eat a lot of fish. We have to keep everyone healthy," says Kurt.

For the most part, oysters can be harvested in about a year. "Washington State has an active health department, one of the best in the country. They check the water quality in the bay all the time. It may seem hard to the farms, but it means we grow product that people are safe eating." Many people don't realize that oysters are seasonal. They spawn annually and during that time you can eat them, but they aren't as plump and don't look or taste as good. "It's ironic that summer time is when people love to eat oysters, but that is spawning season. October is when we start selling again," says Kurt.

Watch for Part 2 in November


Jamestown Seafood
756 Draper Road
Port Angeles, WA 98362

360-452-8370 office
360-460-3240 Sales, Ralph Riccio

Connie Adams/October 2018

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