2007 Year in ReviewDrayton Harbor Shellfish Committee

Published on Thu, Jan 3, 2008 by Geoff Menzies

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2007 Year in Review
Drayton Harbor Shellfish Committee

By Geoff Menzies

The Drayton Harbor Shellfish District Advisory Committee has been working for over a decade to restore water quality and shellfish harvesting opportunities for the public benefit in Drayton Harbor.

Our focus in 2007 was to update our formal “Drayton Harbor Shellfish Recovery Plan” and ensure its adoption by the Whatcom County Council. Our updated plan was unanimously adopted by the council last May (Resolution No. 2007-024).

Our highest priorities are for the council and county executive to develop and fund proactive programs that will eliminate bacterial pollution from failing septic systems and livestock waste from small farms.

Whatcom County still has not provided a dedicated funding source to fully implement our shellfish recovery plan for Drayton Harbor, although that is a key piece of our plan and of Resolution 2007-024. In spite of this shortcoming, there are some new programs that are getting underway soon, which should provide some benefit to the harbor.

Based on new state legislation designed to reduce septic contamination of marine waters and other sensitive areas, Whatcom County has almost completed their “Local Management Plan,” which requires county-wide routine maintenance of septic systems.

The Drayton Harbor watershed has been identified as a “Marine Recovery Area” which means that the county will initiate the new septic operation and maintenance program in this area first.

The county has also entered into a two-year agreement with the Whatcom Conservation District (CD), which will provide funds for CD staff to help property owners improve their livestock management practices.

The CD will also be working closely with the Whatcom County Planning Department, which has responsibility for enforcement of the Critical Areas Ordinance as it relates to livestock management. Both of these programs have the potential to reduce bacterial pollution of our streams and the harbor. If you live in the watershed, you can contribute to improving its health by participating in these programs as they become available.

We are hopeful that these new efforts get up and running soon and that they focus on problem areas that have been identified in the watershed.

The Puget Sound Restoration Fund, partnering with Whatcom County and the Trillium Corporation has finished collecting samples for the Bacterial Source Tracking Pilot Study that took place in parts of California Creek as well as the harbor itself. Initial results from one of the labs (EPA) showed that ruminant livestock waste was commonly found in fresh and marine water in the testing area and that human waste was also detected to a lesser extent and in fresh water drainages only.

The county needs to capitalize on this work by targeting pollution identification and control projects in these specific areas.

The Puget Sound Restoration Fund’s Community Oyster Farm has expanded its oyster sales to include the Bellingham Farmers Market and other local seafood retailers and restaurants.

We especially appreciate all of the local oyster lovers in and around Blaine who support the project by purchasing our Pacific oysters on the dock in Blaine. We will continue these local sales at least through May of 2008. Over the past year, bacteria-laden runoff associated with rain events has made it unsafe for us to harvest oysters from the harbor almost 30 percent of the time.

No business can survive when its doors are closed this often and without any warning. Until Whatcom County steps up in a serious way with well-funded programs to identify and control bacterial pollution and runoff, the risk remains too great for significant investment in commercial oyster farming in Drayton Harbor beyond the existing small-scale nonprofit community oyster farm.

It would be a shame if this late in the game, with all of the successes of the Shellfish District and the Community Oyster Farm to date, we do not achieve the full recovery of water quality in Drayton Harbor that would allow for a more continuous shellfish harvest for citizens, tribal members and commercial growers.

Time is of the essence for real leadership from our county council and county executive to restore water quality and the public’s right to harvest the rich array of shellfish resources that exist naturally or can be farmed in Drayton Harbor. If you are concerned about the ongoing bacterial pollution of both creeks that feed into Drayton Harbor and the harbor itself, call any member of the county council or our county executive and let them know you care.

In coastal communities like ours, the ability to routinely harvest shellfish that is free of pollution and safe to eat is an indicator of a healthy watershed and good land use practices upstream. We all deserve and should expect both.