A border town surrounded by glorious views of the Drayton Harbor with Mount Baker in the distance, Blaine, Wash. is re-emerging as a new destination for fresh seafood. Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s Pacific oysters are one of the many reasons why people are visiting from far and wide. Those who make the visit argue that Drayton Harbor Oyster Co. has some of the best tasting oysters in the world.
The cozy new storefront, located on Peace Portal Drive two doors down from their old location, offers a unique raw bar experience at an affordable price. Their business model is simple and focuses on the freshness of their oysters. When you arrive, you know exactly how fresh the oysters are by the time that is constantly changing on their chalkboard at the end of the bar.
“It’s authentic, it’s fresh, it’s local,” explains Debbie Harger Community and Tourism Development Coordinator at the City of Blaine. The location of the shop offers a direct connection to the waterfront and downtown Blaine. You can expect to go in to order oysters and start chatting with people from all around the world and feel like you’ve become part of the local scene, said Harger.
Their delectable oysters are grown less than a mile away from where you order them and can be ordered to-go or to enjoy in-house. If you are lucky enough, you might be able to see oysters being harvested while you are looking out at the harbor from the Plaza. Not only that, their shellfish will transform those who turn their nose up into oyster lovers. You have the choice between raw or grilled oysters with garlic, lemon, parmesan and other toppings. They also have bottles or cans of local beers on hand, like Atwood Ales, a local farmhouse brewery in Blaine. You can expect to see bread, chowder, and white and red wines on the menu.
Drayton Harbor Oyster Company History
Through a couple of owner changes, Drayton Harbor Oyster Company has been around in one way or another since the 1980s. Geoff Menzie was the first owner and sold the business to Steve Seymour who is the current owner. But Menzie is the true hero of this story, according to Seymour, because he kept the business alive during tough times. In 1999, the Drayton Harbor was closed due to pollution. Menzie continued to work with the state Fish and Wildlife Department with an emphasis on cleaning up the toxins found in Drayton Harbor. After years of work and restoration, results were finally present and in 2004 the harbor was open seasonally for shellfishing. But the work didn’t stop. It’s an ongoing process to keep up with water quality – especially in an area encompassing international waters between Canada and the United States.
In 2014, Seymour retired from his job with the state of Washington to focus on oysters. He and his son, Mark Seymour, took over the lease that Menzie had for Drayton Harbor Oyster Company. They both knew they wanted to share these world-class oysters with those who could deeply appreciate it. But even more, they wanted to use their products to highlight the importance and complexity of water quality. After years of joint efforts to re-start oyster beds in Drayton Harbor, year-round oyster harvests were approved, in 2016.
Drayton Harbor Oyster Company oysters are safe to eat. Although recreational shellfish harvests are temporarily closed in northern Whatcom County, this does not affect oysters sold and tested commercially at restaurants. For testing, the county goes out to various locations and tests mussels, which are signal species that pick up Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) quicker than other shellfish. The state’s mussel monitoring program tests over 100 sites, and some areas are tested every two weeks to keep accurate data of bloom trends.
In Whatcom County, tests sites at Semiahmoo Bay, Birch Bay and Squalicum Harbor. Additionally, they work closely with officials of Vancouver B.C. and share data with each other on a daily basis.
If there are toxins present in the tissue at more than 80 micrograms of PSP, then those are considered dangerous to consume according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When toxins are present shellfish there is a big umbrella closure for the safety of consumers, explains Mart Seymour of Drayton Harbor Oysters Company.
“Commercial harvest product is good to consume because it is tested,” said Jerry Borcher, Public Health Advisor and Lead of the Biotoxin Shellfish Program with the Department of Health. There are plenty of ways to go shellfishing safely, and Borcher advises people to consult the shellfish safety page before going out.
Additionally, if commercial shellfish are thought to be affected then the fisherman must send samples of their shellfish in for more testing.
Now that raw oysters are in such high demand, whereas in the past they were not as popular, Drayton Harbor Oyster Company has been attracting visitors who are eager to try their fresh harvest. In the past, oysters were thought to only be harvested in the winter months or all the months that end in “R”. But a new trend in the oyster farm industry involves the triploid oysters, which allows oysters to be harvested all year long and summer time when BBQing is most popular.
“The number of times that customers come in and tell us these are ‘the best oysters’ is an incredible feeling,” said Mark Seymour. He shared how he’s had repeat customers who continue to come back because of their positive experience with shellfish from Drayton Harbor Oyster Company.
You can find their oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard and Keenen’s at the Pier, Archers and Rock N Rye in Bellingham. But if you’re looking for a fresh, authentic experience, I highly recommended taking the trip out to Blaine, Wash. “If people haven’t been to Blaine, you should really give the hidden gem a shot,” said Seymour. “Blaine is a vacation away from the big city.”
For those who are wanting to go out and get their own shellfish, they should contact the Department of Health and see where the closures are first. But if you’re really craving shellfish, you could just head to a retail shop like Taylor Shellfish’s Samish Farm Shellfish Market or Drayton Harbor Oyster Company and know that what you’re consuming is safe – plus, they’re the experts.
Drayton Harbor Oyster Company reports the marine biotoxin known as PSP has no traceable detection in their oysters. According to the Whatcom County Health Department, shellfish sold in the restaurants and retail markets are required to be tested before consumption, therefore are safe to eat. If you order oysters at a restaurant and they are milky, soft and fall apart then you should request to have them sent back as they might be “spawny oysters”, suggests Mark Seymour.
If you’re looking to harvest shellfish yourself, be sure to check harvest season and licensing requirements. More information is here.