Oysters have been harvested in Willapa Bay since the 1850’s. Supplying California’s demand for oysters. The fishery focused on the native or Olympia oyster, which was harvested primarily from Willapa Bay and the southern portions of Puget Sound. Olympia oyster harvests peaked in the 1890s and declined sharply with almost no harvests by 1915. In 1895, Washington’s Legislature passed the Bush Act and the Callow Act, both of which allowed for sale of tidelands into private ownership. This private ownership of the tidelands, which is unique to Washington, is the foundation of the state’s very successful shellfish industry. With the decline of native oysters and consumers’ desire for larger oysters, the eastern (or American) oyster was imported into Washington waters in the early 1900s. Although the oysters grew well, they experienced massive mortalities, with little subsequent harvest. In addition, the Pacific oyster was being considered for culture. Following successful trial plantings, the first shipment of Pacific oyster seed from Japan was received in 1922. After surviving the trans-Pacific crossing, Pacific oysters planted in Washington grew rapidly and were ready to harvest in two years. Recently manila clams have greatly increased in importance and are now an important part of pacific county shellfish production. Today, approximately 9000 acres of tidelands are used for shellfish production.
Since the 1960’s several pests have threatened the industry in Willapa Bay with burrowing shrimp and japanese eelgrass being two of the most important.