Shellfish Tourism Takes Off

Local purveyors of mussels, oysters, and more bring in tourists to savor and save their shellfish.

Oysters were everywhere, clustered beneath my feet for what seemed like miles. I was on the hunt for the perfect slurpers, fist-sized bivalves that would slide easily down the throat. Once I knew what to look for, I began noticing them with each step. When I closed my eyes to sleep that night, I saw their barnacled gray shells on the backs of my eyelids.

Such was my experience at Hama Hama Oyster Company’s recent Oyster Rama, part of a growing push by local purveyors to bring in tourists. But the events are more than that, says Hama co-owner Lissa James. “These events don’t really make us any money,” she laughs. “They mainly just exhaust us and they’re really fun, but there’s just so much work.”

Instead, the events serve to teach visitors about the ecosystem that supports our favorite shellfish, and, hopefully, inspire them to better care for these waterways. And that’s good for business. “We realized that people are really going to care about stuff that they have a relationship to, and that teaching people how to harvest shellfish is a fun way to talk about environmental issues.”

With that philosophy in mind, here are a few opportunities to do more than down a dozen raw.

Oyster Rama: Hama Hama Farm has raised clams and oysters in Lilliwaup, along the Hood Canal, since 1922. This year they celebrated their third annual Oyster Rama, which supports the Hood Canal Education Foundation. The event includes you-pick oysters, lots of seafood eating, a Shuck-a-Thon, cooking demonstrations, and live music. Each spring, Hama Hama hosts Open Farm Days, where visitors can collect clams and oysters off the beach.

Shellfish-tival: Taylor Shellfish’s 11,000 acres of tideland in Washington and British Columbia have earned it the title of the nation’s largest shellfish producer. Taylor Shellfish offers tours of its Samish Bay and Shelton facilities by appointment. At the Samish Bay location—a century-old farm on scenic Chuckanut Drive—they run a retail store selling their shellfish, Dungeness crab, and fish, which visitors can enjoy at the picnic tables overlooking the bay. Each July, Taylor Shellfish hosts Shellfish-tival at the Samish farm, a family-focused event with games and educational activities. They also participate in the annual Skagit County Festival of Family Farms each October, which includes an open house and free samples and tours.

Musselfest: The major draw at Penn Cove Shellfish in Coupeville on Whidbey Island is its annual Musselfest, held in March: two days of live music, mussel-cooking demonstrations, farm tours, sailing trips, a mussel-eating competition, and plenty of noncompetitive eating opportunities.

Other events: Belfair State Park (on the Hood Canal) and Fort Flagler State Park (on Marrowstone Island) host Shellfests each year, with guided beach walks, touch tanks, children’s activities, and free lunch. This year, Fort Flagler’s is on August 17. The first weekend in October, the Shelton Skookum Rotary Club Foundation hosts OysterFest, with plenty of oysters, a huge selection of food, live music, and beer and wine. Closer to home, Elliott’s Oyster House hosts its annual Oyster New Year Bash, with over 30 varieties of local oysters, wine from 40 wineries, an enormous seafood bar, and live music. E

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