State to limit shellfish harvest in Birch Bay
By Jack Kintner
The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) plans to prohibit shellfish harvesting in a quarter-acre section of beach off the mouth of Terrell Creek in Birch Bay, according to Bob Woolrich of the DOH’s office of shellfish and water protection.
The department plans to reclassify that portion of the beach from approved to prohibited for commercial harvesting effective November 14. The area is a semi-circle 670 yards in diameter centered on the mouth of the creek and stretches from near Alderson Road north almost to the Sea Links Golf Course.
No part of the beach inside Birch Bay State Park is affected.
“This change in classification is required because of the amount of fecal coliform bacteria being discharged by Terrell Creek,” said a letter from the DOH dated October 10. Concentrations of up to 100 times the allowable fecal coliform count have been detected in surveys dating back to 2004, according to supporting data.
The Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) conducted routine sampling of Terrell Creek starting in 2004 and found up to 520 fecal coliforms per 100 milliliters of water at the mouth of the creek.
The Whatcom County Marine Resource Committee found up to 1,190 parts per 100 milliliters at the same location in samples taken in 2006 and 2007.
“Fourteen parts is considered the standard for shellfish growing areas,” said Woolrich. “The standard for Terrell Creek isn’t that stringent but with levels that high it takes quite a bit of dilution to get it down to that level. The flat and shallow beach further inhibits the kind of mixing we need.”
Surveys and computer models indicate that the water from Terrell Creek gets diluted sufficiently to reach a safe level about 670 yards from shore, hence the size of the prohibited harvest area.
Currently, treaty Indians are allowed to harvest commercially in the area but except for Birch Bay State Park, which is open to the public, most of the Birch Bay tidelands are privately owned and technically off limits to non-commercial harvesters. The shellfish season is open all year except for occasional closures due to red tides or other problems, Woolrich said.
Birch Bay resident Kathy Berg said, “The good news is that now Birch Bay, especially Terrell Creek, are on the radar and we are very likely to get help identifying the non-point sources of pollution in Terrell Creek so that those specific issues can be addressed.”
For more information, go to the shellfish closure section on the stormwater/ BBWARM page at www.birchbayinfo.org.