OLYMPIA – The only place in Puget Sound where it is now permissible for recreational harvesters to shuck oysters is on the beach where they were taken.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been reminding shellfishers of that rule since it took effect throughout Puget Sound in May and plans to start issuing more citations to violators who remove unshelled oysters from the beach.
"The new rule is important for the future of oysters in Puget Sound and we really need people to follow it," said Deb Bacon, WDFW scientific technician.
As in previous years, the daily limit for recreational harvesters is 18 oysters measuring at least 2½ inches in length. The size limit is designed to protect Olympia oysters, which generally measure less than 2½ inches.
There are two primary reasons why the shucking rule, previously in effect only in Hood Canal, was extended to include all of Puget Sound, Bacon said.
First, requiring that oysters be shucked on the beach will help prevent the transfer of shellfish predators and diseases from one area to another. "We found that many people who shuck oysters at home take the empty shells to another beach to discard them," Bacon said. "That's a real problem for predator and disease control."
Second, discarded oyster shells provide habitat for young Pacific and native Olympia oysters and are expected to play an important role in WDFW's effort to re-establish native Olympia oysters on beaches throughout Puget Sound.
Encouraged by surveys indicating greater numbers of oysters spawning outside of Hood Canal, WDFW plans to seed several areas of the Sound this summer with Olympia oyster seed currently being raised at hatcheries operated by the department, Taylor Shellfish Farms and the Lummi Nation. Partners in the effort include the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Taylor Shellfish and the state Department of Natural Resources, along with the Lummi, the Skokomish, the Suquamish, and the Squaxin Island tribes.
"By complying with the shucking rule, harvesters can help us bring the Olympia oyster back to Puget Sound," Bacon said.