Heaven on the Half Shell

The Story of the Oyster in the Pacific Northwest; 2nd Edition

ISBN 9781771514231
Softcover | Publication Date: April 18, 2023
Book Dimensions: 9 in x 7.5 in
248 Pages

About the Book

A newly updated compendium on how oysters shaped the environment, cultures, and economies of the Northwest.

Heaven on the Half Shell offers a thoroughly researched and richly illustrated history of the Pacific Northwest’s beloved bivalve, the oyster. Starting with the earliest evidence of sea gardens and clam beds from 11,500 years ago, this book covers the history of oyster cultivation through contemporary aquaculture in coastal Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, northern California, and southeastern Alaska.

Generations of oyster farmers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have weathered many challenges to continue the harvest. Their vivid individual accounts are braided together with significant history, such as the major contributions of Japanese immigrants prior to World War II and the 1994 Rafeedie decision that affirmed shellfish harvesting rights held by Northwest tribes in the US. The book also sheds light on the innovations that made oysters an enduringly popular food, from the creation of so-called sexless oysters that could be consumed year-round to breakthroughs in contemporary oyster cuisine.

Now fully updated and expanded—and chock-full of “oysterabilia”—this classic text offers new insights on emerging challenges to the oyster farmer’s life as well as increased coverage of the roles of women and contemporary Indigenous communities in building this cultural tradition, past and present. Newcomers and aficionados alike will also be delighted by the carefully selected recipes, both historic and contemporary, from the region’s top chefs. As the old saying goes, when the tide is out, the table is set.

About the Author(s)

David George Gordon is author of 22 books on topics ranging from slugs and snails to sharks and gray whales. He previously served as science writer for Washington Sea Grant.

Samantha Larson is a science writer at Washington Sea Grant.

MaryAnn Barron Wagner is the lead for communications at Washington Sea Grant.


“Here’s a book with everything you ever wanted to know about oysters but were afraid to ask . . . There’s a lot of history in these pages.” —Stir

Heaven on the Half Shell not only provides oyster lovers with many ways of savouring this mollusc, it also offers a history of the bivalve culture ranging from Alaska to California” —BC Magazine