Oyster farming is a common aquaculture practice along the Oregon coast with multiple farms located here in the Bay Area. With more than 600 acres of tide lands, Clausen Oysters is the largest oyster farm in all of Oregon. Lilli and Max Clausen started the farm in the 1980s. In January of this year, Lilli sold it to four new owners from Southern California who she met through the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA). Port staff met with two of the owners, Norm Abell and Rebecca Richards who run the day-to-day operations of the oyster farm. According to Norm and Rebecca, their relationship with Lilli Clausen was the main reason that they decided to buy Clausen Oysters. Both Norm and Rebecca also own an aquaculture facility in San Diego so they are familiar with running an oyster farm business.
However, first off, what is oyster farming? Oyster farming is an aquaculture practice that dates to ancient times all the way back to 1st century BC. Since then, many techniques have evolved for growing oysters. At Clausen Oysters, oyster larvae, about the size of pepper flakes, are taken and put on to an oyster shell. These shells are put in huge water tanks for three days allowing the larvae time to attach to the shell where they will remain for their lifetime. Then, these oyster shells are taken out on a barge especially made for shallow water and spread out on oyster beds. The oysters take about 3 years to grow forming groups of clusters on stakes in the tide lands. There are many different types of oysters but the ones Clausen’s currently grows are the Pacific oyster and the sweeter Kumamoto oysters.
After about three years, the oysters are harvested from the barge and brought into the temperature controlled plant to be processed. At the processing center, the oysters are separated from their cluster, checked for quality and sorted by size. The oysters that are deformed or are “offsizes” are shucked, washed in water, and packaged in cartons. The rest of the oysters are stored in a 2000 square foot chilled area and then shipped to wholesalers in California. Over 90% of Clausen’s business is in the wholesale industry but they also provide oysters for some local retailers and have a small storefront at the farm. Currently, Clausen’s produces around 3-4 million oysters every year with the new owners looking to expand operations.
The new owners see a lot of potential for Clausen’s to expand in production and would like to grow the native Olympia oyster and possibly other shellfish species like mussels, scallops and abalone. Eventually, they would also like to expand into international markets and ship their oysters to places in Asia where oyster demands are rising. They are also exploring tourism opportunities locally through providing a “Sea to Table” experience at the barn, complete the outdoor seating, and even opening an oyster bar in downtown Coos Bay.
Overall, it seems that Lilli has left Clausen Oysters in good hands. The combined experience of Norm, Rebecca and their two other business partners as well as their drive for future growth of the business ensures that Clausen Oysters will continue its legacy. The Port looks forward to the continued partnership with Clausen Oysters as our tenant and supporting the economic development of the oyster farming industry.