Surrounded by Acres of Clams: Talking Shellfish with Justin and Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor (left) and Justin Taylor stand on one of the Taylor Shellfish Company's beaches on LIttle Skookum Inlet on south Puget Sound. Photo by Liam Moriarty

The Salish Sea has hundreds of miles of shoreline that are suitable habitat for oysters, clams and other shellfish. The region’s native people relied heavily on shellfish, as did early settlers. This week Liam Moriarty goes to the south end of Puget Sound to talk with Bill Taylor and his 88-year-old father Justin. The Taylor family has been growing shellfish there for over a century.

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Justin Taylor: I’m Justin Taylor.
Bill Taylor: And I’m Bill Taylor.
Liam Moriarty: Where are we standing right now?
Bill: We’re standing on beaches of Little Skookum Inlet down in south Puget Sound.
Liam: Looks like tide’s going out.
Bill: Yep. Tide’s going to be low here in about two hours.
Liam: Smells like the tide’s going out too.
Bill: Yeah; it does. The smell’s … got a little bit of mud, and you can smell the water and kind of hear the clams squeaking on the beach as the water drops out.
Liam: Justin, tell me; how did your family come to this part of the Salish Sea?
Justin: My family actually came here in a covered wagon, the earliest of them. They’ve been working around the tidelands and that since the 1890s anyway.
Liam: Folks have been harvesting oysters from this part of the water for a long time. They were doing that quite a lot even when you were a kid, weren’t they?
Justin: In fact, at that time it was the native Olympia oyster and things were really booming at that time.
Liam: The oystermen always depended on having clean water. That became an issue as early as the 1920s.

Squaxin Island Tribe member Cecelia Bob dries shellfish in the traditional manner. Photo courtesy of the Squaxin Island tribe.

Justin: It did. The pulp mill in Shelton started in the late 20s and it ran for about 30 years and actually just about devastated the Olympia oyster business.
Liam: Because the pollution from the mill was killing off the native Olympia oysters, the oystermen brought in another species of oyster that was able to stand up under the pollution better; is that what happened?
Justin: That is correct; yes.
Liam: There was a conflict about the mill and the water between the oystermen and other folks, wasn’t there?
Justin: There were lawsuits. At that time the State had no protection at all. The one offshoot that came from this, the State developed a pollution control commission, what evolved into the Ecology Department now., but when we were first having our problems, there was nothing in this state that protected us.
Liam: The sort of industrial pollution issues, the pulp mills and that sort of thing, you don’t have as much of that sort of a problem anymore. Most large industrial sources of pollution have been addressed in various ways. But you have other water quality issues, don’t you?
Justin: One of them is pollution from septic tanks and that, bacterial pollution. There are so many more people around the sound. They have pets and that sort of thing, and it all adds to runoff into the water.
Liam: There’s also an issue that folks are just starting to become aware of, that’s associated with climate change, and that’s acidification of the water. Are you guys seeing the impact of that?

Bill: In our hatchery we have in Quilcene, we’ve had the last several years very low productivity of our Pacific oyster larvae because of corrosive water, low pH water.
Liam: I would think that puts you guys in a difficult situation. In Justin’s day when the problem was being caused by a pulp mill down at the end of the bay, you could do something about that, clean it up. If we’re dealing with something that is part of a large global climate change phenomenon, that’s not going to be amenable to the same sort of approach. Where does that leave you guys?
Bill: Well, it makes us at least look at different ways to solve the issue, at least in our hatcheries.
Liam: I know I’ve heard people complain about – especially geoduck — harvesting and feeling like people just come and tear up the beach. Is that an issue?
Bill: Certainly some people feel it’s an issue. Folks have questions about the environmental effects. There are studies going on and at least from our perspective and watching tidelands for a long time, we don’t see the impacts that they claim that there is.
Liam: Bill, this is a business that seems almost uniquely dependent on water quality, and that’s something you really don’t have control over because everyone shares the water. Can you talk a little about that?
Bill: We actually spend a lot of time working on water quality issues. We’re involved in everything from land use planning to making sure that there’s adequate regulations for septics, storm water issues. So we’ve been very involved both at the legislature and here at the local levels in the counties.
Liam: Both of you guys have grown up on these beaches, and have spent your lives walking these beaches and working these beaches. I would think that’s a real sense of connection, especially in a day when most people are from somewhere else.
Bill: I think probably anybody that’s grown up in a family that’s got a long tradition of doing something, you have a sense of pride. A lot of effort has gone into trying to make sure that we leave this place a good place for our kids when they come along. My niece who actually runs — operates this farm here, is our fifth generation to start working in the family business, and we’re – we want to see that legacy go forward and we want conditions to be here so that the family can continue to work in the shellfish industry and be prosperous.

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3 Responses to “Surrounded by Acres of Clams: Talking Shellfish with Justin and Bill Taylor”

  1. There’s another side to the story that should also be reported on that is completely missed here. Liam Moriarty should also be concerned as a kayaker, because the public’s rights to the waters of Puget Sound is increasingly infringed upon by the shellfish industry. Also not mentioned is the fact that Manila clams are a non-native invasive species, so at least some of the discussion should be about preserving the natural ecosystem, and not just simply about water quality. While the Taylor family may want prosperity for themselves, it should not come at the expense of public rights, or at the expense of natural ecosystems, yet this is exactly what is happening. It is well established scientifically that shellfish aquaculture alters the natural condition of the shoreline, and that is has negative impacts. Geoduck aquaculture is only one obvious example. How can introducing thousands of tons of PVC into tidelands, and then basically blasting those tidelands with fire hoses be a good thing? As with agriculture, the conversion of land to farming a monoculture species completely changes the nature of that area. It is no longer what it evolved into naturally.

  2. Admittedly, I am a clam farmer, but the first comment posted on this story was so blantantly biased as well as speaking from an unscientific point of view that it begged a response.

    The public’s rights to the water ways have been in no way infringed by geoduck culture. It looks like Dan is one of thosei individuals who laments the fact that the state legislature sold off over 70% of the tidelands in the State of Washington and they are now privately owned. Most shellfish farmers welcome most citizens onto their beaches AS LONG AS THEY ARE RESPECTFUL.

    There are many non native species farmed in Washington including the Manila clam, the Pacific Oyster, potatoes, and maybe another 100 different plants and animals. Taylors did not bring the Manila clam to Washington.

    Saying Taylor only wants prosperity for themselves while implying they have no concern for the environment is one of the most ignorant things I’ve read of late. To discredit Taylor’s many efforts on behalf of the environment either comes from ignorance or a total lack of objectivity regarding Taylors and shellfish aquaculture.

    To say that it is a well established fact “shellfish aquaculture has negative effects” says nothing. The debate is whether the many positive effects of shellfish aquaculture, the primary one being the filtering effect of bivalves,
    outweigh the few negatives.

    PVC tubes? Do you mean the same PVS plastic that carries about 70% of the nation’s drinking water.

    A more objective response would benefit all readers.


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