Olympia oyster genetics and aquaculture

Alleviating Regulatory Impediments to Native Shellfish Aquaculture

Researchers are examining local adaptation in native Olympia oysters to help predict the impacts of culturing native shellfish species for restoration and commercial production.

Principal Investigator

Steven Roberts, University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Co-Principal Investigators

Brady Blake, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Jonathan Davis, Taylor Shellfish Farms, Inc.

Carolyn S. Friedman, University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Frederick Goetz, NOAA/NMFS Northwest Region

Brent Vadopalas, University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences


In collaboration with federal, state, tribal, and private partners, researchers have cultured tested, genotyped, and intermixed wild and farmed Olympia oysters from around Puget Sound to measure their breeding fitness. In that process, the team has also developed an effective anesthetic that induces the oysters to open their shells and allows nonlethal sampling.

External links: http://oystergen.es/olympia/

Research Updates

With funding from a national strategic initiative, researchers investigated essential information on local population structure of Olympia oysters so restoration efforts could be efficiently managed in an environmentally sustainable manner. They performed reciprocal transplant experiments at three sites and grew the three populations at a fourth site. Researchers also assessed mortality, reproductive activity and growth; conducted stress response experiments; and evaluated second-generation oysters under hatchery conditions.

Researchers confirmed that population structure exists on a relatively small geographic scale, and moving oyster populations to locations where local stocks still are present could be disadvantageous. The results make the case for caution in introducing new populations where remnant population structure exists: maladapted transplants could overwhelm locally adapted residents or not survive in a new location or interbreed with local populations, reducing overall fitness. Investigators also developed improved breeding procedures — which increased the number of broodstock while maintaining genetic diversity — and nearly doubled larval output. Procedures also reduced staffing hours substantially, saving restoration practitioners $40,000 over a 12-week period.


Oystergen.es. Steven Roberts. http://oystergen.es/.

Timmins-Schiffman EB, Friedman CS, Metzger DC, White SJ, Roberts SB (2013) Genomic resource development for shellfish of conservation concern. Molecular Ecology Resources, 13(2): 295–305.

Chi B (2012) Effects of photoperiod and mechanical stress on Olympia oyster physiology. Capstone thesis, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.