Make every month Heart Month by eating more Washington-harvested shellfish — like oysters!
Enjoy local Washington seafood this February during American Heart Month and learn about the benefits of oysters in your diet
Did you know February is American Heart Month? It is a time when people are urged to take on ways to advocate cardiovascular health and one simple choice is by eating more Washington-harvested seafood like oysters, a popular, nutritious delicacy in the culinary realm!
The American Heart Association recommends eating seafood as part of a healthy diet. Studies show that adding seafood to your meals twice a week leads to significant beneficial impacts including reduced blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, which remains one of the leading causes of death in the country.
Oysters — part of the Mollusca Phylum family — are packed with zinc, protein, vitamin B-12, vitamin D (great for our often sunny-less Northwest weather), omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, and iron.
They’re commonly eaten raw with a squeeze of lemon juice but even cooked their nutritional content stays largely unaffected. Oysters positively contribute to cardiovascular health and regulating blood pressure.
Pacific Northwest tribal cultures have and continue to depend on shellfish as an important mainstay of their diet for eons and evidence of human consumption dates back more than 165,000 years. Archaeological, and modern biological data have even recorded oysters as far back as when dinosaurs roamed the planet.
According to the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA) — founded in 1930 and representing growers in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii — pioneers to the West Coast began actively cultivating and harvesting native Olympia oysters from San Francisco Bay in the 1800s. Commercial oyster harvesting soon expanded north to Oregon and Washington’s Willapa Bay, Puget Sound and Hood Canal.
Native Olympia oyster production peaked in the late 1800s and 1900s when production in the United States reached 160 million pounds annually, but success was short-lived due to overharvesting, pollution from pulp mills, upland logging practices, and other challenges.
With their decline the industry began looking for ways to sustain oysters. During this time, Pacific oysters from Japan were first introduced in the early 1900s by early Japanese American first-generation “Issei” immigrants. These oysters eventually thrived in the 1930s at places like Willapa Bay off the southern Washington coast and Hood Canal. The prime natural setting and shellfish farms eventually lead to a resurgence in oyster cultivation by the 1970s.
Other influential pioneers, including the Yamashita family, raised the bar on oyster cultivation around the local region. Learn more about the Yamashita family in “How this Seattle family brought oysters back from the brink” on the KUOW/NPR website and how a Japanese American family saved the oyster industry on the Olympic Peninsula Daily News website.
Commercial harvesters continue to carry on this legacy year after year, as WDFW fishery managers and tribal co-managers have good monitoring in place to ensure harvest levels are sustainable for shellfish like oysters for years to come. The Pacific Northwest’s commercial seafood industry puts 102,476 to work in living-wage jobs and provides a $11.2 million boost in sales to the economy.
Currently, numerous Washington commercial shellfish growers, like the Hamma Hamma Oyster Company Farm and Saloon in Hood Canal, have developed creative ways to globally market oysters. This fifth-generation family-run and sustainable shellfish farm was founded in 1912 on the Olympic Peninsula and offers shellfish dishes in the Canal’s clean, rich watershed environment.
Where to gather oysters
There are numerous places to buy fresh local oysters, including from retailers participating in Local Catch, a network of supported fisheries and small-scale harvesters. You can also venture on your own to gather up a batch of oysters on public tidelands where populations are in relatively good shape.
“We’re seeing relatively stable populations on beaches that have oyster beds with many being able to sustain annual harvest by shellfish gatherers,” said Camille Speck, the WDFW Puget Sound intertidal shellfish manager. “I’d consider Hood Canal to be a prime oyster area. There are going to be some excellent low tides in March and April when it switches back to daylight hours.”
Oysters play an important role in the local ecosystem since they’re a natural filtering system for algae in the water. Each oyster can filter gallons daily! That is beneficial since algae blooms reduce the ability of fish and other aquatic species to find food leading to a decline or wiping out sea-life. Oysters can also filter out other pollutants, viruses and organic material as well as improving water quality and clarity to further enhance habitats like eelgrass and other aquatic vegetation.
Here is a list of beaches recommended by Speck for oyster gathering:
· Twanoh State Park just north of Union in Hood Canal is excellent for oysters with beds on both sides of the boat ramp.
· A good early-season location is North Bay in Case Inlet, which has an enhanced oyster bed and open from March 1 through April 30 for day-use harvesting only. Parking is extremely limited in the lot, and it is illegal to park along shoulder of the road. A nearby alternative is Oakland Bay Tidelands, located north of Shelton off Highway 3, open year-round for oysters and clams.
· Eagle Creek located three miles north of Lilliwaup in Hood Canal off Highway 101 is open year-round for excellent oyster gathering. Parking is extremely limited to a small area and shoulder parking is allowed off Highway 101.
· Lilliwaup State Park Tidelands in Hood Canal off Highway 101 is open year-round for oysters and clams. The Triton Cove Tidelands located off Highway 101 in Hood Canal is an excellent oyster gathering beach. West Dewatto (DNR-44A) located along the east shore of Hood Canal has an enhanced oyster bed and is open year-round for oysters.
· Another productive oyster beach open year-round is Dosewallips State Park located south of Brinnon off Highway 101. The Point Whitney Tidelands located off Highway 101 is a year-round oyster location but the average size is small, and harvesters are reminded that there is a 2 ½ inch minimum size. The highest oyster abundance is around the point at the south end of the outer tidelands.
· Sequim Bay State Park located about four miles east of Sequim on Highway 101 is open for oysters with a projected closure date of April 30. You can find good numbers of oysters in the WDFW oyster enhancement plots (see beach photo for oyster plots). The most recent oyster plants occurred south of the boat ramp.
“I always caution people to visit the Washington shellfish safety map on the same day you plan to harvest shellfish,” Speck said. “It has an easy to navigate search tool to locate the precise beach you want to view. Clicking the beaches on Department of Health map provides links to more detailed information about each beach on the WDFW website. It is critical to check the shellfish safety map on the date of harvest because water quality conditions can change quickly.”
Recipes from chefs and more
As you think about the benefits, you might be feeling a bit hungry. Luckily, the world is your oyster, especially when it comes to eating local Washington seafood!
And with oysters packing the nutrient wherewithal we’ve got a couple heart-healthy oyster recipes from local chefs Taichi Kitamura, owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura in Seattle, and Jason Wilson, owner of The Lakehouse in Bellevue and Civility & Unrest in Bellevue and who opened and served as executive chef at St. Edward State Park’s The Lodge in Kenmore.
Kitamura’s cuisine features locally sourced seasonal ingredients from farms and fisheries and maintains a rooftop garden with Seattle Urban Farm Company. He’s an avid fly fisherman and enjoys hiking, camping, gathering shellfish, Japanese “matsutake” mushrooms and spending time with his wife and daughter.
Wilson is a James Beard Award-winning chef sourcing seasonal ingredients from Northwest and American farmers, producers, and fishermen. Outside of the kitchen, he enjoys snowboarding, hiking, yoga, and spending quality time with family.
Grilled oysters with Jalapeño Daikon ponzu
By Chef Taichi Kitamura
16 live medium sized oysters in shells
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tbsp’s sake
3 tbsp water
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 oz Daikon peeled and diced
2 oz Jalapeño chopped
1 tsp lemon zest
Jalapeño Daikon Ponzu
Add the soy sauce, sake, water, and vinegar in a pan and cook on a medium heat. Bring to boil and continue cooking for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
In a blender, add the lemon juice, daikon, jalapeño, and lemon zest. Blend until smooth. Add the cooled sauce and blend until mixed. Remove from the blender into a bowl.
Pre-heat grill to high
Place the oysters on the grill, the flat part of the shell facing up.
When the oysters open, pry the top shell off and discard, leaving oysters with their juice in the shells.
Add a teaspoon of the ponzu into each oyster. Being careful not to spill the liquid, remove the oysters to a platter and serve.
Penn Cove Oysters roasted in the shell with Charred Broccoli, Lemon & Pistachio
By Chef Jason Wilson
16 fresh (live) Penn Cove Oysters
1 head Rapini (broccoli Rabe), trim the stems off
6 cloves garlic
¼ cup shelled pistachios
2 whole lemons
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil,
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp shallots, chopped
1 tbsp chopped rosemary
½ red jalapeno (Fresno chile), chopped fine
Preheat an oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the pistachios on a pan and toast until aromatic and darker brown, 10–12 minutes. Chop pistachios well of grind in a food processor. If using the processor, no need to clean it afterwards since you’ll use it for the broccoli.
In a pot of salted boiling water, blanch the rapini for 15 seconds and quickly arrest the rabe in salted ice water. Wring the broccoli of its water, chop it well and wring it of water again until most water is removed.
Zest the lemons, chop the zest well and juice the fruits.
Simmer the chile, garlic, olive oil on medium heat until mixture is aromatic, and garlic is slightly toasted, (5–6 minutes). Remove 2T of the oil for charring.
In a very hot large cast iron or stainless skillet on high heat, char the broccoli rabe by adding it evenly in one layer to the pan, again on high heat, add the 2T of oil sparingly and season with salt, when broccoli rabe is darkened, blackened, and charred, remove from pan.
Add broccoli, garlic mixture, rosemary and lemon juice, zest to a food processor and cut/chop/process until smooth-ish, roughly about 35 to 45 seconds.
Reserve the mixture, pistachios, and lemon juice aside.
Open the oysters and reserve as much of the “liquor” as possible in the shell. Using aluminum foil, make some pedestals or nests for the oysters.
Preheat the oven on broil, place the nests and oysters on a baking pan and top each oyster with the broccoli mix. Broil the oysters for 6–7 minutes, remove from oven and add the chopped/ ground pistachios. Serve warm.
Have another recipe in mind? Share it with us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages using #LocalWASeafood. Also visit wdfw.wa.gov/LocalWASeafood to learn more about in-season sustainable seafood and how the state and its partners are working to keep it on families’ tables, in the market, and on the menu.