Tribal shellfish beds gain protection

An agreement between the state and cruise lines that governs sewage waste from large vacation ships has been changed to protect shellfish beds, and could become state law during the next year.

Shellfish beds were at risk of being contaminated by waste from the cruise ships, said David Fyfe, a shellfish biologist with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, an agency that advocates on behalf of tribes.

The Tulalip Tribes and other north Puget Sound tribes rely on shellfish for food, jobs and cultural purposes. The state first reached an agreement with large cruise lines four or five years ago, Fyfe said. That agreement allowed cruise ships to dump raw sewage off the coast, which could hinder shellfish harvests, especially geoduck. State lawmakers were prepared to pass the agreement into law about two years ago, but tribes protested and asked for more protection for shellfish, Fyfe said.

The new agreement requires cruise ships carrying 250 people or more to release sewage at least a half mile away from commercial or tribal shellfish beds, install monitors to detect problems, and immediately report disinfection problems to the state Department of Health.

If state lawmakers turn the agreement into law during the next legislative session, cruise ships could face fines and other penalties for not respecting the tribal shellfish harvest, Fyfe said.

“There would be some teeth behind it,” he said.

For more information on the agreement, contact the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission at or 360-438-1180.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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