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Beehive Archive: Raising Hopes— And Oysters?—In Great Salt Lake

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The Mountain West is not known for its seafood. But that did not stop Utahns from trying — several times over seven decades — to cultivate oysters in Great Salt Lake. 

It started when white settlers in the Salt Lake Valley imagined the desert blossoming as the rose. This vision included turning Great Salt Lake into a site for aquaculture. In 1853, an opinion column in the Deseret News recommended raising oysters by simply directing the appropriate amount of fresh water into a portion of the salty lake. The author envisioned not just oysters, but “clam, crab and lobster,” and even salmon and shad.

 

It turns out that the prospect of oysters in the lake was more than just idle speculation. In 1882, an entrepreneur in Corinne went so far as to buy 600 oyster seedlings. In 1898, an expert from the US Fisheries Service spent three weeks investigating the Jordan, Weber, and Bear River Bays for the possibility of raising oysters, but decided the idea was not commercially viable. This early round of experiments failed due to high levels of mud flowing in from the rivers, not to mention the highly variable levels of salt in the water.

 

Still, some Utahns entertained this possibility into the twentieth century. In 1917, R.H. Siddoway, who was Utah’s Fish and Game commissioner, investigated Bear River Bay for its oyster-raising potential. Siddoway hoped that the new Lucin Cutoff — a causeway through 

Great Salt Lake completed in 1904 — had freshened the water enough to be favorable for oysters. The salinity tests were encouraging, and Siddoway felt so optimistic that he made plans to introduce oyster seed into the waters. But the results — again — were unfavorable.

 

So, do these oyster experiments reflect a hardy resourcefulness, or just a refusal to accept the constraints of our natural environment? For better or worse, Utahns have long tried to make a living — or money — or both — by bending nature to human will.

The Beehive Archive is a project of Utah Humanities, produced in partnership with Utah Public Radio and KCPW Radio with funding from the Lawrence T. and Janet T. Dee Foundation. Find sources and past episodes at Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive.