NAHCOTTA - The Port of Peninsula in quaint Nahcotta has been brightened by three new state of the art oyster dredges, a sure sign of prosperity in Willapa Bay's leading industry.

Decreased oyster production in the Gulf Coast due to storms such as Hurricane Katrina has helped increase the price to nearly double what it was for the tasty delicacy from Willapa Bay.

Taylor Shellfish Farms' new manager, Eric Hall, says, "The wholesale price for a gallon of oysters has gone from about $9 per gallon two years ago to between $17 and $18 per gallon." The increased price has jump-started the industry's profitability and led to oyster growers on Willapa Bay wanting to up their production as soon as possible.

Jeff Kemmer's 4K's and Coast Seafoods' Seafood Express are the largest of the two shining new dredges and Taylor Resources is "test-driving" a smaller dredge called the Carol T. Hall estimates the cost of the dredge at about $250,000.

The Carol T has a maximum speed of about 35 miles per hour, a bow thruster for increased mobility, and has a draft of a mere two feet. A knuckle boom is being tested to see how practical it can be for picking up bags of oysters, a task usually performed by manual labor. The craft is powered by twin 225-horse-power outboard motors. It was crafted by Chinook's Ed Wing.

According to Mike Stamp, employee for Taylor, the company has put out "about twice as much shell" this year. The shells are full of oyster spat, young mollusks not much larger than a pin head that will grow quickly to harvestable size in the pristine waters of Willapa Bay.

"Eventually, we will use the Carol T to transport seed from the shallows to fattening beds in deeper water," Hall explains. "We will still have a need for the traditional heavy steel boats to harvest the oysters during the winter months."

Despite bouts with invasive spartina grass, burrowing shrimp and voracious green crab, the bay is still one of the most productive places for oyster harvests in the lower 48 states. The oyster industry is the north end of the Peninsula's leading employer.

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