Thursday, March 3, 2011

Major Washington Oyster Grower Passes- Founder of Taylor Shellfish Farms

Below is a brief biography of this prominent man in the shellfish community. His Taylor Shellfish Farms grew to $50 million in sales.

Importantly, he fought to for water quality to save the oysters. Unfortunately, Boston Harbor did not have a voice for the oysters as industrialization took hold. While we cannot undo that history, we can build a new one.

Justin Taylor who died Monday at age 90, was a familiar sight to generations of South Puget Sound residents as he waded out to check on his oysters and clams.

Mr. Taylor grew up in Shelton, Wash., on the South Sound, where brackish inlets and bays recede to reveal tidal mud flats, perfect habitat for oysters and clams. At that time the local economy was split between oystering and a pulp mill that drew on the region's ample forests.  The mill employed about 400 workers but polluted the water, poisoning oysters. A decades-long confrontation ensued between pulp workers and oystermen. Unlike oystermen in other states, those in Washington had long owned their own beds and so had extra incentive to fight for them.

Mr. Taylor helped lead the oystermen's fight, including lawsuits demanding reparations after oyster harvests fell by as much as 90%. The native Olympia oysters were nearly wiped out and still haven't recovered. The mill was finally closed in 1957 after Washington state refused to grant it a wastewater permit.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Taylor and a brother established their aquaculture company. They started buying prime oyster grounds and built a hatchery that produced hundreds of millions of oyster larvae. They expanded into clams and mussels, which are grown in bags suspended in the bay.

Thanks, in no small part, to his work  Puget Sound oysters became so popular that some connoisseurs speak of "merroir," subtle differences in flavor depending on where in the sound the oysters are grown.
"There are beds—you can throw a rock from one to the another, and in one the oysters fatten up and are great. In the other they will always be mediocre," Mr. Taylor told Forbes in 2010.

Skip Bennet of Duxbury and Island Creek Oysters has reported variations in Eastern oysters. And at the Massachusetts Oyster Project, we have seen large differences in growth and fauna in surprizingly short distances.

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