Burrowing Shrimp are Threatening Washington's Shellfish Farming Industry

The Local Shellfish Economy:

A Centuries-Old Staple of the Pacific Northwest

Oysters are the oldest agricultural crop in Washington State, first gathered by Native Americans for centuries before settler-contact.

Today, the industry is the lifeblood for small towns along Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, where multi-generational families have been farming nearly 12,000 acres of privately owned tidelands, many since before Washington statehood. 

Shellfish aquaculture continues to be a critical economic driver for the state economy, especially in the rural communities of Southwest Washington. 

Washington State shellfish exports are worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year and the industry is the cornerstone of employment in many rural areas where jobs are often hard to come by. 

The Problem:

Burrowing Shrimp are Threatening Critical Estuaries, and Washington's Shellfish Industry as a Whole

In Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, shellfish farmers face an existential threat from a persistent infestation of burrowing shrimp, which can render productive shellfish beds into desolate mud flats in a single season.

High population densities of burrowing shrimp soften the tide flats and cause shellfish to sink and suffocate. In the past, growers used pesticides to manage the burrowing shrimp populations but public concern about use of the chemicals forced changes.

Numerous techniques including alternative pesticides, mechanical control, electricity, and even microwave blasts have been tested, but growers still lack an effective management program and farms are rapidly losing productive acreage; some have gone out of business. The search for a solution continues with research trials of other alternative products and techniques.