Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018
Drayton Harbor Oyster Company and a Fresh Oyster Experience in Blaine
Sarah Climaco

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.

Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s Pacific oysters grilled up with all of the toppings. Photo by Sarah Climaco

Blaine Storefront

The cozy storefront, located on Peace Portal Drive, offers a unique raw bar experience at an affordable price. Their business model is simple and focuses on the freshness of their oysters. The 320-square foot space lends a casual feel, with the grill cooking oysters outside and raw oysters being shucked at the bar inside. 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.

Guests enjoy the sunset, local singing and fresh oysters outside of Drayton Harbor Oyster Company. Photo from Drayton Harbor Oyster Co.’s Facebook.

“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.

Mark Seymour sharing his love and knowledge of oysters with guests behind the bar. Photo from Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s Facebook.

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.

Mark Seymour serving up fresh oysters paired with Atwood Ales oyster stout. Photo by Sarah Climaco

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.

Raw Pacific oysters served by Drayton Harbor Oyster Company. Photo by Sarah Climaco

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.

Oyster Beds

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.

A glimpse of the wave and tide actions out in Drayton Harbor where the oysters are harvested. Photo from Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s Facebook.

 

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.

Fresh Shellfish

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.

Fresh oysters ready to be shucked. Photo by Sarah Climaco

“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.”

Recreational Shellfishing

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.

 

Freshly harvest oysters from Drayton Harbor Oyster Co. Photo by Sarah Climaco

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.

 

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About the Author:

Sarah Climaco is the Marketing Assistant specializing in digital media for Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. She is a writer that is motived by the power of storytelling. As a graduate of Western Washington University, she has lived in Bellingham for over six years and has become immersed in the local community. You can find her enjoying a craft cocktail while soaking up the foodie spots in Bellingham. She also enjoys long walks on the trail with dachshund, Honey.