WSG News Blog

Who brings your seafood to you? An interview with Dawn Ruquet of Taylor Shellfish Farms

September 6, 2023

A story of community, connection and, of course, oysters

By Katalin Plummer, WSG Science Communications Fellow

When I first sat down with Dawn Ruquet in the Taylor Shellfish restaurant located in Pioneer Square, Seattle, she assured me that her story was ordinary, nothing to write home about. I smiled and told her that we would see about that. As a beloved member of the Taylor Shellfish Farms team, I had a hunch Dawn’s life had been full of the plot twists and passion so common to the world of aquaculture.

Dawn (bottom) and a fellow Taylor Shellfish team member out in good spirits for a day in the field

Originally from New York, Dawn moved to the Seattle area in her early teens. As she got older and began choosing a career, she thought about how human biology had always fascinated her. “I needed to know why our bodies function the way they do,” she said. She told me she decided to pursue radiology; although, of course, I knew that she had a career change along the way. After ten years of working at the same hospital, she was inexplicably laid off and found herself looking for bartending jobs to tide her over until she made her next move. As fate would have it, she was offered a spot on the Taylor Shellfish team. “I didn’t know much about oysters at all, but once I began learning about the biology of them, I realized this was another being I could look inside of,” she continued, and I could see the spark of wonder that many of us feel at witnessing nature’s beauty. “It opens you up to a whole new world.”

From the very beginning of our conversation, it was clear that one of Dawn’s primary values is community. When I asked what work she did at Taylor Shellfish, she didn’t tell me her job title; she told me about her tight-knit team that easily swapped roles when a staff member needed support. She didn’t walk me through her daily tasks; she shared how she engages guests in exploring the Taylor Shellfish bounty and educates them on what they’re eating. She didn’t talk about how her work and the business had changed over the years; she marveled at seeing families come back time and time again, to witness kids growing up and lives changing, but always asking to see Dawn.

Dawn (right) and a fellow Taylor Shellfish team member marveling a live oyster

While I’ve gotten my feet wet with opportunities such as the Washington Sea Grant Science Communications Fellowship, I am still new to the field, so I make a point to learn from everyone I can. Dawn was certainly no exception. Her knack for effective science communication is clear as she educates guests in a way that is neither condescendingly basic nor eyes-glazing-over complex. Although we chatted about broadcast spawning and external fertilization, Dawn uses plain language when telling guests about the external factors that may have impacted the oysters during a particular season, like run-off and temperature fluctuations. She puts it simply: “The oysters are going to absorb whatever flavors and elements they experience, whatever they’ve been through.” It’s no different when guests try different varieties of oysters. She talks about how they grow, where they grow, how old they are, and what that all means in terms of flavor. Her face lights up as she tells me about seeing guests notice the difference between two oysters from different places. The proof is in the (oyster) pudding—her carefully crafted, practical explanations of the factors behind merroir have paid off.

For many aquaculture businesses, sustainable resource management is key. After all, caring for the animals and their environment in a way that ensures their longevity helps maintain an aquaculture business in the long term. Knowing that Taylor Shellfish is committed to sustainability, particularly by way of water quality, I asked Dawn for her thoughts on sustainability. I, a marine biologist, expected to hear about carefully conducted studies and projections that considered the ecology of these invertebrates and employed years of collected data. Once again, Dawn surprised me with her people-first mentality. She passionately spoke of the resilient team of farmers that are out working to supply oysters every single day. “We want to make sure that we’re doing the best we can to provide a safe environment, not only for the shellfish, but also for the people involved.” To her, sustainability means keeping the business local—employing Washington locals, harvesting exclusively in the Salish Sea. Sustainability means taking care of the people and the environment that abundantly provide to folks here in Washington and all around the world.

After all, Taylor Shellfish has always been a down-to-earth family company. Everyone truly pitches in: top dogs at Taylor Shellfish like Dawn’s direct supervisor, Mark Cochran, have no issues getting their hands dirty. “Just the other day, Mark was down in Portland with a couple of other higher-level staff at an event, shucking oysters. We do it all the time,” Dawn told me, laughing. 

As our time together came to an end, I asked Dawn what advice she would have given herself six years ago, right before she started at Taylor Shellfish. “Empower yourself with knowledge,” she said confidently. “I couldn’t believe how much information was out there. I read book after book, watched videos, attended the classes that the company put on.” Then, in what I now knew to be true Dawn fashion, she turned her attention to the community she caringly tends to daily. “Every day on my way into work, I think about what I’m going to do for people today, what experience I’m going to create for them.” And she’s not just talking about her guests’ short time in the restaurant. She goes above and beyond to connect young scientists with contacts and internships with the hope of stewarding passionate minds into the sustainable aquaculture industry. 

I’ve reflected a lot on my conversation with Dawn since meeting her, and I now realize why she didn’t lead with her job title, her years of experience, or any other technical details about her work. To Dawn, it’s so much more than a job. It’s a way of life that resonates with her and a community that fulfills her love of connection and purpose. I told you—her story is anything but ordinary.

The Taylor Shellfish team in the field


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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