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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fish Bulletin 123. The California Oyster Industry


The California oyster industry is an interesting example of man's adapting an otherwise unproductive part of the landscape to his benefit. His efforts to raise exotic oyster species on barren, tidal mud-flats along a coast where there is no native oyster stock of commercial value have met with both success and failure, and the industry has been marked by wide fluctuations in activity over its 110-year history. California was the leading Pacific coast oyster producer during the latter 19th century, followed closely by Washington. Production in Oregon was comparatively insignificant. After the decline early in this century of the San Francisco Bay oyster industry based on young oysters imported from the east coast, the California industry had a marginal existence until a major revival of the industry in the mid-1950's. At that time, large-scale plantings of young oysters imported from Japan, raised California oyster production to a level similar to that achieved in the late 19th century. By volume of production, California in 1958 was second ranking oyster producer on the Pacific coast, and seventh ranked among all United States oyster producing states. The latter rank was due to declining production on the east coast as well as to increased production in California. Two general accounts of California's oyster industry development have been published. One was by Charles Townsend (1893), who visited the oyster growing area of San Francisco Bay a number of times during the late 1880's in the course of his work aboard the United States Bureau of Fisheries' steamer Albatross. The other account was by Paul Bonnot (1935), California Division of Fish and Game, whose principal contribution was a description of developments in the industry in the 1930's connected with introducing Pacific oysters from Japan and the attempt to establish a native oyster industry. There appears to be no published account of the California oyster industry covering its entire history and utilizing all the scattered materials relating to the subject, particularly to its current condition. I have attempted to supply such an account in this paper.

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