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Spotlight on 5 Sustainable U.S. Shellfish Farms that are Getting It Right

By Rowan Jacobsen, "Digging Dinner," May/June 2011

What's not to love about healthy and succulent farmed mussels, clams and oysters?

On a foggy summer day, I walk the cobbly edge of Totten Inlet, a narrow estuary at the southern tip of Washington's Puget Sound. It's low tide, and the flats are an endless bed of greenish oysters. Tiny jets of water arc to and fro from clams spitting beneath the ground. I'm walking on a living beach, one of the prized growing areas of Taylor Shellfish Farms. Across the inlet, workers are harvesting the market-sized oysters. Others are digging with hand rakes for clams. "My family arrived in the Puget Sound region by covered wagon in the 1880s," says fourth-generation owner Bill Taylor. "We've been farming shellfish here ever since." It's a testament to the family's stewardship—and to the sustainability of shellfish farming in general—that the same beds they were cultivating a century ago are as productive as ever. I scoop up an oyster, shuck it with my knife and tilt it into my mouth. It tastes like the living sea, sweet, salty and clean. As a French poet once said, eating an oyster is like kissing the sea on the lips.

A taste of shellfish lets me connect with the coast, even if I'm hundreds of miles away. And I love knowing that every time I eat farmed shellfish, I'm not only supporting my own health, but also the health of the oceans. Most wild shellfish populations were overharvested long ago. Even the great oyster reefs of the Gulf Coast—some of the last extensive shellfish communities in the world—have declined in recent years, thanks to hurricanes and oil spills. But shellfish farming is picking up the slack, growing about 15 percent per year.

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