State of Our Watersheds: Pollution closes shellfish beds to harvest

Fecal coliform bacteria in Whatcom County, in large part from unregulated dairy farms, continues to prevent tribes from exercising their treaty rights to harvest shellfish in their Usual and Accustomed areas.

The Western Environmental Law Center released a report in April stating, “Industrial agriculture is the most significant, obvious, and concentrated source of fecal coliform and nutrient pollution plaguing Puget Sound.”

The Nooksack Tribe monitors water quality in Drayton Harbor where none of the 3,726 acres of shellfish beds are unconditionally clean enough to be approved for harvest. Shellfish areas that are conditionally approved are not safe to harvest during certain times, usually following rainfall.



These findings were documented in the recently released 2016 State of Our Watersheds Report.

Increased harvest pressure and degraded water quality have substantially reduced the shellfish available for Nooksack to harvest and their ability to exercise the Treaty Rights guaranteeing them a sustainable shellfish harvest.

While the status and trend of the shellfish growing areas in Drayton Harbor and Birch Bay appear to be marginally improving in the short term, the majority of shellfish growing area between the two water bodies remains either prohibited to shellfish harvest or only conditionally approved. For the Nooksack Tribe to fully exercise their treaty, much more of the Drayton Harbor and Birch Bay shellfish growing areas need to be cleaned up and opened for shellfish harvest.

The WELC report points to some concrete changes that we can make to turn the tide on pollution:

  1. Establish mandatory, science-based agricultural best management practices.
  2. Use existing statutory authority to eliminate nonpoint source pollution.
  3. Repeal Section 1619 of the Farm Bill.
  4. Repeal farm plan confidentiality provisions.
  5. Enact new legislation mandating scientifically supported BMPs.
  6. Fund conservation practices that last In perpetuity.
  7. Trim the Fat! Consolidate voluntary incentive programs.

Learn more about the 2016 State of Our Watersheds report.