Washington shellfish farmers navigate challenges during COVID-19 pandemic

BOW, Wash. -- Taylor Shellfish Farms has been in the market for fresh oysters and clams since 1890. It has proven to be a resilient company over the decades with business ties that span across the Pacific Ocean in Asia and right here in the Americas.

Bill Dewey said the company has seen its share of issues, ranging from pollution to red tide events, but it has never seen anything like the novel coronavirus.

“We’ve never been faced with a global pandemic before with a total market collapse,” said Dewey. “The majority of our product is sold in the restaurants - that was a huge impact. That was like overnight. Our orders disappeared.”

Dewey said business is only at 25% of sales, and the company is losing out on millions of dollars in revenue.

It’s only laid off 375 employees in Washington and beyond.

Paula Faulkner drove to the Samish Oyster Bar and Market from Bellingham to pick up her online order.

“It’s all packed. It’s mussels and they’re in ice and a bottle of Italian wine,” said Faulkner whose son works at Taylor Shellfish. “I don’t want to see places like this close. I want Caleb to keep working here too.”

Chris Schmidt from Marysville showed up to the Samish market with a big cooler to store his fresh oysters on the drive back home.

“Shuck them, garlic, butter, parmesan cheese, and some tobacco and it tastes really good,” said Schmidt with the Samish Bay in his view. “Taylor’s used to let you go out here and cook your oysters and crab. It’s actually nice. It’s sad to see it like that.”

Dewey said Taylor Shellfish started feeling the impact of COVID-19 as early as January when the new virus started ramping up in China during the Lunar New Year.

Now the biggest gamble ahead for shellfish growers is purchasing expensive clam and oyster seed, with the window of time to plant them quickly approaching.

“This time of year is when we’re getting back into our daylight low tides and when we get busy planting seed on our farms. That takes labor and it’s expensive to purchase that seed,” said Dewey. “That’s a quandary a lot of Shellfish growers are facing around the country right now.”

The company has applied for federal protection programs. The company is hoping to bring back most of its employees. Right now about 175 of them have employment security.

During COVID-19, Taylor Shellfish is offering free shipping to customers in Washington State and to some addresses in surrounding states. Check out their website to make a purchase.