SEQUIM (September 11, 2003) – All of Dungeness Bay will be closed to shellfish harvesting this upcoming winter, eliminating oyster and clam gathering opportunities for Indian and non-Indian harvesters. The Washington Department of Health officially closed the bay to tribal and non-tribal shellfish harvests from November through January, when water quality fails state and federal standards.

That’s a big blow to the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, which has always depended on the bay for shellfish. Not only does the Jamestown Tribe harvest clams and oysters along the beach for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, the tribe also operates a commercial shellfish farm in the bay. During the three-month closure, which coincides with the holiday season when clams and oysters are in high demand, the
tribe misses out on much-needed revenue.

In recent years, portions of the bay have been closed to recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting because of high levels of fecal coliform. The bacterium, which comes from the feces of warm-blooded animals, such as livestock, wildlife and humans, flushes into the bay. Because oysters and clams filter food from water, fecal coliform sometimes ends up in the tissue of shellfish, making people sick if eaten. Over time, however, shellfish will flush the pollutants from their system.

“The pollution problem is tough for the tribe as well as other residents in the area,” said Lyn Muench, natural resources planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. “We’ve had to work with different groups and try different things to identify the problems and get the word out about what can be done. The pollution in the bay is ‘non-point,’ meaning that it comes from numerous scattered small sources. We have this big problem of a polluted bay and the first weapon against it is information.”

Since 1997, when water samples began showing signs of pollution, the tribe has taken part in a coordinated effort to clean up the water in and around Dungeness Bay.

The tribe has:

– Helped monitor water quality in the bay, as well as the Dungeness River and its tributaries.

– Worked with Clallam County to put together a clean water district, which includes the entire Dungeness watershed.

– Conducted two water circulation studies that identified where pollution was coming from and how it flowed throughout the bay each day.

The tribe, along with Clallam County, the Clallam Conservation District, the Department of Ecology, and other state agencies, also has worked to educate the public about the pollution problem by hosting workshops and seminars for residents living in or near the Dungeness watershed.

Failing septic systems, poorly managed farms large and small, wildlife and storm water runoff all contribute to rising pollution levels in the bay. Because there are numerous sources of pollution located throughout the watershed, fixing the problem isn’t easy. And as the Dungeness valley’s population continues to grow, having tripled in the last 25 years, the pollution problem could grow with it.

Some progress, however, has been made. The Clallam Conservation District has helped some local farmers by sharing the cost to put up fences to keep livestock away from the river and its tributaries. The tribe has passed through some of its water quality funds from federal sources to the Conservation District and the county to extend this cost-share concept to such projects as manure composting, and inspection and repair of septic systems. The tribe also has sponsored a series of workshops at the Dungeness River Audubon Center, which it manages in partnership with several non-profit organizations.

“It’s a creative use of our water quality funding to try and get at resolving this complicated problem in the valley,” Muench said. “Working with these other organizations helps address the problem and get the word out about what people can do to help. Harvesting clams and oysters in Dungeness Bay is important to the tribe. We will continue to work hard to solve this problem, because we want to ensure that the entire community can gather shellfish in this bay and not have to worry about pollution. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

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For further information, contact: Lyn Muench, natural resources planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, (360) 681-4631, lmuench@jamestowntribe.org. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.