Timber to Tideline: Hama Hama Oysters
“For us, the tide is the boss,” says Adam James of Hama Hama Oysters, a fifth-generation, family-run shellfish farm on Washington’s Puget Sound.
“In late August and September, we’ll be out there on the beach harvesting at 3 or 4 a.m., and when the sun finally comes up you can’t help but pause. It reminds me of those moments before we had Instagram, when you’d just take in a moment and appreciate how lucky you are. There aren’t many people who work like this nowadays.”
Adam’s family has been operating the farm since 1890, when his great-great-grandfather bought the lands surrounding the mouth of the Hamma Hamma River. With its source high in the protected Olympic Mountains, the river’s clean waters have always been crucial to the family business.
“There’s an interplay between fresh- and saltwater,” notes Adam’s sister, Lissa James Monberg. “The salinity, temperature and food all determine an oyster’s flavor, and those factors vary from bay to bay. Oysters eat algae fueled by estuarine nutrients, but they also consume tiny bits of organic material from the upstream environment. So the quality of the freshwater will have a big impact on the flavor of the oysters downstream. The purity of the river influences the flavor of the oysters, so we’re extremely fortunate to be farming at the mouth of a river that spends most of its time in pristine rainforest.”
The family also runs a timbering operation in the hills above the farm, harvesting selectively on a longer rotation that encourages diversity within the forest structure. But for Adam, whose first job was digging clams for $10 a bucket as a grade-schooler, most days are spent in rubber boots in the intertidal zone.
“We grow our Hama Hama oysters right on the river delta and our Blue Pools in tumble bags that rise and fall with the tide,” he explains. “We generally show up three hours before low tide, pick the oysters into crates or a bucket, and put them in harvest sacks. Six hours later, we go out on a barge for high tide, grab the sacks with a grapple and then bring them in.”
“Oystering aligns environmental and economic interests in a neat way,” he continues. “We’re producing a tangible product, but we also want this to be a restorative fishery. It’s a high-quality protein that doesn’t require a lot of inputs in terms of resources, and it allows us to keep tending to this place we’ve inherited. We get to work in a pretty amazing spot—now the biggest thing is to not mess it up.”
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HAMA HAMA OYSTERS
To learn more about Hama Hama Oysters and support their work, please visit hamahamaoysters.com.
This story first appeared in the 2017 Patagonia Workwear Catalog.