Commercial shellfish harvesting restricted because of pollution

STANWOOD — The state Department of Health earlier this week announced restrictions on commercial shellfish harvests because of pollution.

An annual water quality evaluation showed issues in at least six commercial shellfish growing areas in Washington. One is in Snohomish County, though no harvesters currently operate there.

Water quality does not meet public health standards at one sampling station in Port Susan. This means the shellfish may not be safe to eat. Other stations in the bay show high levels of the bacteria used to indicate the presence of pathogens. Those areas are considered threatened by contamination, said Scott Berbells, shellfish growing area section manager for the Department of Health.

Port Susan was designated as a commercial shellfish growing area decades ago, but water quality issues led to the end of harvests in 1987.

Over the past 15 years or so, there have been efforts by clean water advocates to improve the health of the Stillaguamish Watershed, which feeds into Port Susan. In December 2009, the area regained approval for commercial harvests. The Stillaguamish Tribe has shown interest in restarting harvests there, Berbells said. Along with water quality, the population of certain species of shellfish are a point of concern when considering commercial collection.

There are 105 commercial shellfish areas in Washington. Along with the six closures, 16 others are at risk because of periodic bacterial pollution.

Public health officials say they are working with counties and shellfish growers to find and fix problems. Local programs to reduce polluted runoff from homes and streets and to preserve shoreline are meant to improve water quality.

There are limited public options in the area for recreational shellfish harvesting. No such beaches are located in the contaminated area of Port Susan, Berbells said. However, conditions can change quickly.

“I think it’s important for all the folks who are interested in recreational shellfish harvesting, if they own tidelands in front of their house or if they go to a public beach, to check our shellfish safety map before they go out,” he said.

The shellfish safety map is available on the department’s website, doh.wa.gov.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@ heraldnet.com.

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