Jerry Yamashita’s life as an oysterman is testament to quiet determination.
His father, Masahide Yamashita, came from Japan to Seattle in 1900 to seek work. After a variety of failed enterprises, Masahide became a seafood importer and exporter. That’s were Jerry’s fate as an oysterman began.
In the 1920′s, stocks of Olympia’s oysters had reached critically low levels. Masahide expanded his seafood business by importing and planting Japanese oyster seed on leased tidelands in Samish Bay.
At the age of 13, Jerry went to work on his father’s oyster beds. His budding career as an oysterman ended abruptly, however, when World War II broke out and the Yamashita family’s oyster growing days were suspended.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but a lot of things we did were illegal,” Jerry reminisces. “My father’s business office was on the Pier in Seattle, which was supposed to be restricted to us. Also, we weren’t allowed to have short-wave radios or be in possession of sounding charts. Of course, my father had charts all the way from Alaska to California because of his oyster seed business.”
Ultimately, Jerry’s father was arrested and the family was placed in an internment camp. When Jerry was released in 1945 at the age of 22, he was planning to go to the Illinois Institute of Technology, but his family over-rode those desires. He turned once again to oyster farming. He bought tidelands in Hood Canal, dug a well, and scraped together materials to build a small shack where he lived and worked. With these humble beginnings, Western Oyster Company was born.
For sixty years, Jerry Yamashita has persevered in the face of war, family tragedies and business challenges. Like his father before him, he is one of the founding fathers of shellfish farming.