World is their oyster, according to harbor board
“We’re at a critical juncture in the harbor,” Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District board chairman Geoff Menzies told fellow committee members. “As long as we don’t have a spike during dry weather in the next month or so we’ll see a conditional reclassification of the harbor,” one that will allow the community oyster farm to sell their harvest this year.
Speaking at a March 17 committee meeting, Menzies said, the harvest would not be celebrated at the traditional Shuckin’ on the Spit festival at Semiahmoo Resort, as new management has opted not to sponsor the event. “They have elected not to invest anymore in Shuckin’ on the Spit.” Menzies said.
In the last two years the festival has combined a seafood extravaganza with education on water quality in the harbor. This year, Menzies said, an open house at the Blaine harbor office June 6 would allow the community to get a taste of the first oysters to be harvested since high levels of fecal coliform pollution shut down his local oyster farm in 1995.
Menzies said the state had been willing to consider conditional reopening of part of the harbor after looking at data from stepped up water quality monitoring, paid for by grants obtained through the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and Whatcom County shellfish restoration dollars. “You live or die by the sword. If we got lousy data it could threaten the harvest but good numbers could lead to reclassification,” Menzies said.
After a trend was identified that data collected after a rain showed higher levels of bacteria in the harbor, Menzies said the state agreed to pull out those numbers and consider allowing oysters to be harvested only in dry periods, when water quality is good.
“It takes typically about a week for oysters to purge themselves of pollutants,” he said, explaining the state would ban shellfish harvesting in the week following a rainfall of more than half an inch.
In addition, areas of the harbor that have historically very high levels of fecal coliform – near the Blaine Harbor breakwater for example – would remain closed. “They draw a sanitary line,” he said. Serendipitously, the areas likely to be open would be the traditional tribal harvest area on the inside of Semiahmoo spit and the commercial growing areas on the other side of the harbor.
“We have something to celebrate here if we have the upgrade but we still have this wet weather phenomenon that will make it difficult for anyone to have a business here,” Menzies said. “We haven’t really accomplished our goal until we restore this harbor to health, to fully approved status.”
To meet that goal Menzies said it was time for harbor restoration efforts to stop relying on the vagaries of grant funding and start looking for a dedicated funding source. “The shellfish restoration legislation allows this community to create revenue to clean up the harbor,” he said. “The county has adopted our restoration plan. What’s missing is funding.”
One option would be for a tax levy to be approved, with the funds collected earmarked for projects like hobby farm improvement in the watershed, continued monitoring of septic tanks and water testing. “I worry about it politically,” said committee member Kathy Cullen. It was not clear if a shellfish levy would need county council backing or voter approval.
“We need to identify what the consequences are for not funding the shellfish protection district. That will provide some motivation,” said Ken Carrasco of the Sea Grant program and Western Washington University. “Everyone likes to have their place cleaner but not if they have to pay for it.”
Blaine public works director Steve Banham asked if the county would consider allocating flood tax dollars collected in the Drayton Harbor watershed to shellfish protection. “There aren’t many floods in this area but you’re taxing the people in this area,” he said.
Menzies suggested to the committee a first step would be to review the restoration plan and pinpoint high priorities not being addressed through current funding,or priorities needing long-term stable financing.
The committee will meet again April 21 at 4 p.m. at the Blaine harbor office.