Port Gamble S’Klallam: First Responders to Oil Spill

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe was the first responder on scene for a vessel that drifted onto its reservation and beach in Port Gamble Bay Wednesday night. The tribe deployed oil spill booms from its oil spill response trailer provided from a Department of Ecology (DOE) grant a few years ago.

Port Gamble shellfish biologist Tamara Gage observes the bay's shores for oil.

The 50-foot long former surplus Navy torpedo recovery boat drifted onto reservation shores after becoming loose from its mooring late Wednesday night, and heeled over as the tide dropped, resulting in diesel fuel spilling from a fuel tank vent. How much oil was spilled is unknown, however, contractors pumped 1,200 gallons of diesel fuel from the stranded boat Thursday night, according to the DOE. The agency also estimated the total fuel tank capacity to be 1,500 gallons.

The tribe has shut down all shellfishing on the east side of the bay, from Point Julia to the southern border of the reservation, until further notice. Tribal members harvest shellfish from the beach often for ceremonial and subsistence purposes.

“We’re going to monitor the situation over the weekend and re-assess potential openings next week,” said Tamara Gage, the tribe’s shellfish management biologist. “It’d be great for a big storm to come through this weekend to help dissipate the oil.”

Gage walked the beach on Friday morning to observe the remaining oil sheen. There was still a faint smell of diesel and light shimmers of oil along the waterline.

Diesel fuel, unlike crude oil, evaporates quickly. Shellfish are also good at filtering out toxins, but not if the oil is still seeping out of the beach, said Paul McCollum, the tribe’s natural resources director.

The spill comes at a time when the tribe has been working hard with its neighbors to help clean up the bay. While still relatively clean compared to other areas of Puget Sound, incidents like this are happening more and more in Port Gamble Bay.

“Trying to help keep this area as clean as possible is getting harder and harder, but the tribe is not going to give up,” McCollum said. “The tribe can’t just pick up and leave once its natural resources are destroyed. Not just the tribe, but everyone, has to work together to help cleanup and protect the bay.”

See more photos at NWIFC’s Flickr site.