Keeping the oysters in Oysterville Sea Farms

Dan Driscoll, owner/operator of Oysterville Sea Farms.

OYSTERVILLE — Imagine if, seemingly out of nowhere, someone came along and took apart the car you needed for work. Would you get a different one, or would you stand up for yourself?

Lifelong oysterman Dan Driscoll, owner and operator of Oysterville Sea Farms (OSF), has spent the last seven years doing the latter, after Pacific County applied new rules to the historic, already established business, greatly limiting his ability to operate his retail store and deli on the shore of the Willapa Bay.

For 15 years prior to the county’s intervention, OSF was open 363 days a year. Operating out of the only oyster buildings on the National Register of Historical Places in the United States — and the only business on the Peninsula that offers seating on the bay — Driscoll sold and served everything from beverages and clam chowder to raw oysters and baking products.

According to Driscoll, seven years ago, the county’s former Director of Community Development, Faith Taylor, at the urging of other oyster farmers in the area, unexpectedly changed the operating requirements for his business. OSF had all the necessary permits and licenses, and given its long standing in the community, had permission to continue operating when the county created rules that barred retail operations on the bay. However, Taylor decided OSF should be treated like a new business. She began applying current zoning regulations, which essentially closed the business.

“Not having any clear and lawful path to take property rights from the Oysterville cannery buildings, the county attempted to justify its interference with OSF by challenging every aspect of OSF, in what seems like every possible way,” said Driscoll recently.

Despite court after court upholding OSF’s rights to operate, Pacific County continued to appeal the decisions until the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of OSF on April 10, 2018, ending the legal battle. The county issued OSF new permits on June 22, allowing Driscoll to operate freely again. The fight was important to him.

“If you don’t stand up for justice, what do you stand for?” he said. “OSF is the heritage, life’s work and livelihood for many people. It took decades to make it a regional destination and a vibrant community asset. Who knows if we can do that again, or how long it will take?”

On a recent summer Sunday afternoon, OSF was again that vibrant place, with a steady flow of people coming in to buy fresh oysters or clams or sit on the deck overlooking the bay with a bottle of wine.

OSF is still getting up and going, but once again offers a variety of products including a number of shellfish options, beer and wine by the glass or bottle, hot soups and Willabay (another brand owned by Driscoll) products including breading, cereal and spices.

Driscoll said the three main goals of the business have always been, “Keep the cannery standing. Keep the oyster in Oysterville and provide a place where the public can view Willapa Bay,” he said, noting that he’d also like to use the business as a way of promoting the local oyster industry. That’s why he sells shellfish from other local farms like Ekone, Goose Point, Oyster Holding company, the Herrold Family, Willapa Bay Shellfish and Elkhorn Oyster, in addition to his own oysters.

“We enjoy cooperating in farming efforts with other shellfish companies,” he said. “We would very much like to work with other shellfish companies that want to promote their shellfish in Oysterville. There is probably no other place in the world where people are more interested in learning about and enjoying oysters than Oysterville.”

While things are still “getting back to normal,” OSF has been through the “worst of times.” Maybe now it’s time to start having some of those “best of times?”

“I think, in some ways it’s the best it’s ever been, because we appreciate it,” he said.

Oysterville Sea Farms is currently open everyday through September and every weekend year round.

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