Drayton Harbor Community Shellfish Farm: Status and Trends

The Washington State Department of Health recently completed an analysis of Drayton Harbor titled: “Status and Trends in Fecal Coliform Pollution in Drayton Harbor 2011.” The good news is that at most stations that are routinely monitored for shellfish harvesting regulation purposes, fecal coliform pollution (as measured by the Fecal Pollution Index, FPI) has been improving annually since 2008. That is the overall trend for the harbor and it is a good thing.

Of eleven stations that are considered in this analysis, four have negligible pollution indexes, four, including the Community Oyster Farm (station 4) have lowpollution indexes, one station has a highindex and two stations have very highpollution indexes. It is important to recognize that this analysis does not highlight seasonal water quality trends or specific conditions like rainfall amount. Shellfish harvesting is still Prohibited in most of Drayton Harbor due to fecal coliform pollution from livestock, human, and animal waste. Some of the important commercial, tribal, and recreational harvest areas are Conditionally Approved. This includes the site of the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm. Shellfish harvest in these areas is entirely prohibited from November 1 through the end of February. This is called a Seasonal Closure and is based on poor water quality during this time of the year, which is the wet season, and the most adverse for fecal coliform pollution for a number of reasons. This Conditionally Approved classification allows us to harvest oysters starting in March and due to many other factors, we curtail harvest in late May or early June.

So there is some good news from this recent report. Now , here is the bad news. Among the 95 shellfish growing areas throughout the Puget Sound, Drayton Harbor is considered to be the most polluted area. To put it in a more local perspective: of Whatcom County shellfish harvesting areas, Drayton Harbor has a “moderate” pollution index, and both Birch Bay and Portage Bay are categorized as “negligible” for fecal coliform pollution.For more information on this and more general information on how DOH classifies shellfish growing areas have a look at this link: http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/sf/Pubs/fecalreport.pdf

Bottom Line for Drayton Harbor is that there have been improvements in water quality over the past several years but there is still much work ahead to get the harbor in line with most other shellfish growing areas throughout Puget Sound. This can be done but it will take a dedicated effort to reduce sources of contamination at their origin. It was over twenty years ago that Drayton Harbor was designated by local governments as a Priority watershed for restoration and nonpoint pollution control. Drayton Harbor is an initial focus area of the Governor’s “Washington Shellfish Initiative.” This initiative creates a Pollution Action Team of Federal and State agencies to respond quickly to water quality problems. Services provided by the team include “pollution identification, inspections, enforcement, flyovers and technical assistance.” The “long struggle to protect the community shellfish beds in Drayton Harbor” is recognized in this initiative. We wish all partners success in this effort. For more information on this effort, go to: http://www.governor.wa.gov/news/shellfish_white_paper_20111209.pdf

For more information about this project or to get involved, please contact Geoff Menzies at geoffmenzies@comcast.net