Penn Cove Shellfish

Coupeville, Washington

Over half of the proteins we eat come from the oceans, but we are harvesting seafood faster than nature is replenishing the supply. Unlike many other types of farmed seafood, the methods employed by Penn Cove Shellfish do not require any added feed or chemicals. Farmed mussels, clams and oysters are a sustainable seafood choice and that’s good for you as well as the environment.

Penn Cove Shellfish | Coupeville, Washington

My iPhone died in Samish Bay. On our final full shoot day with Ian Jefferds of Penn Cove Shellfish, the plan was for us to head out to the oyster and clam beds. The thing is, though, that these shellfish are farmed out in the middle of the bay and you can only see them at low tide. The guys at Penn Cove head to the beds while the tide is going out and then they are essentially stranded there until the tide comes back in about eight hours later. We didn’t have eight hours to spend on getting the shots of the oysters and clams, so we timed it so we’d be able to take a boat out to the beds right as the tide was coming back in, get the shots and the interview and then head back to shore. At least that was the plan.

After pulling on hip waders and donning a life jacket, we waded out into the water and climbed up onto one of Penn Cove’s boats. We were shooting in June, but it was chilly and misty and utterly beautiful. Canada was visible just on the other side of the bay. We motored out to the beds — it took us about 40 minutes to get there. Once we began nearing the beds, we slowed down and began looking for a good spot for us to jump off and wade to where the oyster tumblers and clam beds were located.

We jumped off the boat into the knee-high water and began walking against the incoming tide to get to the oysters and clams. Chris and Jeff had all of their camera equipment and I had my mic tucked into the back of my waistband as usual and my iPhone in my jacket pocket so I could take photos. As we were walking, Jeff started telling me about how he’s gotten stuck from time to time in the muck on the bottom of the bay. I glanced his way and saw that he was pulling up on the tops of his waders, so I did the same and just as I did, I stopped short. My right foot was stuck!

I stood there, the incoming tide pushing against me, and tried to pull my foot out of the mud … by this time, the water had risen a few more inches and was about mid-thigh. I could not move my foot! I was leaning forward, trying to yank my foot out of the mud, and the water was pushing against me … needless to say, I fell back, slow motion, into the bay, taking the mic and my iPhone with me. The guys waded over and helped me up, grabbed my leg and pulled my foot out of the mud. They asked me if I was OK, and I was drenched, but I was fine.

We needed to get the shot — we were heading to Seattle the next day to interview Tom Douglas and visit the Pike Place Fish Market, so if we didn’t get this shot now, we’d never get it. So we continued our trek. Water had filled my hip waders and it wasn’t easy making it the rest of the way, but we got to the oysters, which are grown in tumblers to give them a deep cup, and we got the interview. My mic was dead, but Ian’s was perfectly fine, so with Canada over my shoulder and water in my boots, we discussed the finer points of oyster farming.

With the interview and b roll wrapped, we walked back to the boat, the tide continuing to rise, and climbed aboard and motored the 40 minutes back to shore. By that time I was really cold. I stripped off the waders and wrung out my socks, but there was no getting warm on the boat. When we got back to shore, we headed for a local bar and toasted to our Samish Bay adventure with a round of bourbon.

Taylor Shellfish | Shelton, Washington


At Taylor Shellfish, we had the opportunity to talk with Bill Dewey, the company’s senior director of public affairs. Bill works with local and regional organizations, as well as the federal government, on issues related to the shellfish industry, which is a huge economic driver in the Pacific Northwest.

Ocean acidification is a real crisis for the shellfish industry and not many people are aware of what it is or even that it’s happening at all. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we’ve been increasing the carbon in the atmosphere through our use of fossil fuels as well as deforestation and tilling of the land. The ocean absorbs roughly a third of the carbon in the atmosphere, and that is changing the ocean’s pH, making it more acidic and leading to a decrease in what are called carbonate ions, a critical component in the formation of shells and other structures that require calcium carbonate, like corals.

Bill told us about how the baby oysters at Taylor Shellfish were all dying and they couldn’t figure out why. The tiny oysters weren’t able to build their shells because of ocean acidification — wild Pacific oysters have not successfully reproduced since 2004. Taylor Shellfish designed a system on their farm to support the baby oysters as they developed their shells. Once their shells are developed enough, the oysters are transferred out to the open water to fully mature, so we’re able to enjoy oysters on the half shell, but that apparent abundance masks the reality that is facing the shellfish industry and, critically, the wild populations of shellfish, corals, plankton, urchins and other sea creatures that rely on calcium carbonate to survive.

Oyster Catcher | Coupeville, Washington // Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen | Seattle, Washington


Coupeville, which is a charming historic town, is home to some great restaurants, including Oyster Catcher, where Tyler Hansen creates dishes that reflect the flavor of the Pacific Northwest region. We stopped by for an oyster-shucking lesson and got a taste of his mussels with escabeche and pan-fried clams.

In Seattle, we visited with Tom Douglas, who is widely credited with being a defining figure in the establishment of Northwest cuisine. He has soured from Penn Cove Shellfish for years and showed us his version of the classic mussels with wine and herbs along with a dish that pan-roasted the mussels without broth. This approach put the fresh, briny, sweet flavor of mussels front and center and the recipe couldn’t be more simple.

Pan-Roasted Mussels With Shishito Peppers

1 lbs fresh mussels
About two handfuls shishito peppers
1 lemon, quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste 

| Preparation | De-beard mussels and discard any that are dead. You can check to see if open mussels are alive by tapping on their shells. If they begin to close, they’re alive. 

Heat a skillet (not non-stick, cast iron is possible) over high heat and add the mussels. Cook and stir the mussels, moving them around the pan. As they begin to open, add the peppers and continue to stir to avoid burning the peppers, until all of the mussels have popped open. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the pan, season with salt and pepper. Discard any mussels that didn’t open and serve.