At one point, Olympias, also known as Olys, were plentiful on the West Coast, and could be found from Alaska to Baja California. Native populations feasted on the briny bivalves, as evident by massive midden piles they left behind, according to Eater. Gold rush forty-niners also developed a taste for them. However, it was hydraulic mining that nearly killed off the Oly population, with silt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains flowing down to bury wild Oly beds in the Bay (via Smithsonian Magazine). Later on, paper mills in Washington would discharge harmful chemicals into the Puget Sound and destroy nearly all the Oly beds there in the first half of the 20th century, recounts the Seattle Times.
However, thanks to restoration efforts in California, Oregon, and Washington, Olys are starting to make a slow comeback. Despite impressive strides, Olys are still pretty rare and difficult to find. According to Smithsonian Magazine, it takes three to four years for Olys to reach harvestable size (2.5 inch minimum in Washington State), even under ideal farmed oyster conditions. So if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some Olys, be sure to follow these absolute best ways to keep oysters fresh, or better yet, enjoy them as soon as possible. And hold the oyster fork if you’re enjoying them at a fancy restaurant.