Saving Washington's Oyster Industry

Trevor Kincaid

Kincaid’s concept of his function as a professor in a state university is a liberal one. He gives unstintedly of his time to all who seek information and help in biological matters, and his knowledge is so encyclopedic, his judgement so sound, that he has an abundance of calls upon his acumen.
Melville HatchHistory of Zoology at the University of Washington, 1936

One century ago, Zoology professor Trevor Kincaid became the “father of the Northwest oyster industry” for inventing techniques that saved the industry from extinction.

Trevor Kincaid was born in Peterborough, Ontario in 1872.  From an early age, he showed an interest in studying and collecting animals, including oysters upon his family’s move to Olympia in 1889.  Before entering UW as an undergraduate student in 1894, Kincaid had already discovered and named several insect species. Although initially interested in discovering and naming species, Kincaid co-founded the Marine Station at Friday Harbor with botanist R.C. Frye in 1905, three years after joining the UW faculty in Zoology.  He taught the first classes in ichthyology, which led to the creation of the Fisheries College in 1919.

In the early 1910s, Kincaid turned his attention to Washington’s troubles oyster industry.  At the time, exploitative harvesting had nearly eliminated the local oyster industry, and attempts to cultivate Atlantic oysters did not succeed.  Kincaid was employed by the US government on a research trip to study a parasite that could destroy gypsy moths in Russia and Japan from 1908 to 1909.

It was on one of these trips that Kincaid observed Japanese oyster culture and realized that this could be the key to saving the industry back home.  Importing Japanese oyster seed, Kincaid went to work for the state Department of Fisheries at its lab on Willapa Bay.

Kincaid later moved into private oyster ventures at Willapa Bay, the Bay Point Oyster Company and the Claire Oyster Company, working over three decades to bring back the oyster harvest.

During his more than fifty years at UW as a student and professor, Kincaid’s work with insects and oysters made him one of the best known zoologists in the United States.  Kincaid discovered and named hundreds of species, but most of his fame came from his innovative solutions to economic problems–solutions with a huge impact.  Today, Washington’s oyster industry is worth an estimated $70 million.