Politics & Government

State oysters, wine are the pearls at this party

OLYMPIA – The food of Washington’s beaches and vineyards was the focus Sunday evening at the eleventh annual SLURP.

The event, which stands for Shellfish Lovers Ultimate Rejuvenation Party, raises money for protecting and restoring shellfish growing along the West Coast, said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

Restoration efforts include maintaining the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, cleaning up area beaches and scholarships for students who are involved in aquaculture research, Downey said.

Ocean conditions are hurting some oyster farmers this year, she said. In the past three years, there has been a decrease in oyster seeds as a result of a change in ocean pH and bacteria levels at two hatcheries, which supply many farms with seed, Downey said.

“Some farms just don’t have enough mature oysters to meet demand,” she said, adding, “Oyster demand has stayed quite strong, despite the economy, but the decrease in seeds is now catching up with us this year.”

Some ways to address the issue is to retrofit the hatcheries for the changing conditions, she said.

This year’s SLURP featured oyster bars run by seven local farmers; 14 South Sound restaurants; seven Washington wineries; and about 400 visitors, volunteers and servers, all of whom gathered on two floors of the Fish Brewing Co. brewhouse. Fish Brewing also served its beers.

The restaurants, which included Falls Terrace of Tumwater, Ramblin Jack’s of Olympia and the Siena Wine Bistro and Coffee House in Lacey, served up shellfish dishes to be sampled by visitors. Attendees also voted on their favorite dish and wine.

The raw oyster bars, where guests could try out fresh shellfish from local farms, were a big draw.

At one table, Chelsea Farms of Eld Inlet and the Hama Hama Co. of Hood Canal shared an ice-filled table stocked with their Pacific oysters.

Although both farms raise varieties of Pacific oysters, the “Chelsea gems” and “Hama Hamas” have different shapes, tastes and textures – a partial result of differences in the conditions and water where they’re farmed.

Oyster farmer Adam James, whose great-great-grandfather established Hama Hama, likened the differences between oysters to the difference between vineyards growing the same type of grape in different soils and different methods.

“We are what we eat, and so are these oysters,” he said.

Venice Buhain: 360-754-5445