Can industry save Puget Sound?

A myriad of public and private groups have touted the expansion of shellfish aquaculture in Puget Sound as a win-win for the economy and the environment. Because of their ability to filter large amounts of water, bivalves are uniquely positioned as crops that promise to improve water quality while providing jobs.

In 2011, with backing from NOAA, Governor Christine Gregoire announced the Washington State Shellfish Initiative to “restore and expand Washington’s shellfish resources to promote clean-water commerce and create family wage jobs.”

(Source: Flickr user Angie Hu)


But, some concerned homeowners and several scientists urged the government to temper its pro-industry approach. Breitberg et. al. (2000) emphasize the need to set aside oyster growing sanctuaries alongside aquaculture industry land. Doing so, the authors argue, will protect disease resistance and biodiversity in oyster populations, as well as providing uninterrupted habitat for other species that depend on oyster shell substrate. Use of oyster habitat solely for extractive practices, while it may filter water in the short run, could lead to ecosystem disruption in the long run, especially as farmed bivalve species continue to push out native species.

Luckily, both the state government and the shellfish industry have responded to the call for conservation by supporting bivalve restoration efforts. In Washington, at least, it seems that growers and the government are committed to expanding the shellfish industry in a way that protects the long term health of the Sound by utilizing both sustainable extraction practices and conserved land in the management scheme for shellfish resources.

(Source: Puget Sound Restoration Fund)


Breitberg et. al. 2000. Oyster Reef Restoration: convergence of harvest and restoration strategies. Journal of Shellfish Research 19(1):371-77.