Event to mark one year of open shellfish harvesting

Drayton Harbor

By Stefanie Donahue

One year ago this month, the Washington State Department of Health lifted recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting restrictions on 810 acres of Drayton Harbor. To celebrate the anniversary, the Whatcom County Public Works department is hosting a “Shellebration.”

The event kicks off at 4 p.m. on Friday, December 15 at the H Street Plaza. The event is free and folks from the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company will be serving up grilled and raw oysters and oyster stew as well as hot cocoa and cider.

Representatives from Whatcom County Public Works and the Whatcom Conservation District will also host an awards ceremony to honor community members who have worked to improve the water quality in Drayton Harbor, said Whatcom County water quality planner Kate Kimber.

“The community has stepped up to maintain the low pollution levels after last year’s lift on restrictions,” Kimber said. “Fecal coliform pollution is a community issue with solutions that we know work. There is no one quick fix. Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. The solution of clean water requires lots of small pieces, the community actions, fitting together to complete the puzzle.”

Since 1995, state and county agencies, nonprofit organizations and volunteers have worked to reduce high levels of fecal coliform in Drayton Harbor. That year, the harbor partially closed to shellfish harvesting due to high levels of pollution. In 1999, the harbor closed entirely and closures continued sporadically until they were lifted by the
department of health in 2016.

The still-active Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District advisory committee, Puget Sound Restoration Fund and Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm are among the many groups that came forward to restore water quality.

Over the years, volunteers have worked with residents and boaters in the watershed to evaluate and repair septic systems, encourage consistent use of marine pump out stations, invest in wastewater stormwater management systems, improve pasture and manure management, plant trees and shrubs along waterways and more.

Despite making progress, work must continue, Kimber said.

“Our hope is to continue this momentum into the future, sustaining, and even further improving water quality,” Kimber said. “Continued community engagement is necessary to ensure clean water to keep the shellfish beds open and local waterways safe.”

Shellfish harvesters are encouraged to check before they dig. Call the shellfish safety hotline at 800/562-5632 or visit bit.ly/1g04enM for more information.

To learn more about the upcoming “Shellebration,” contact Kimber at 360/778-6302 or kkimber@co.whatcom.wa.us.

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