Manila clams are harvested for the Upper Skagit Tribe's Blessing of the Fleet

The Upper Skagit Tribe is cultivating shellfish beds in Samish Bay to meet ceremonial needs, with the intention of expanding eventually into a multi-faceted shellfish growing operation.

The tribe acquired 80 acres of beds with money from a 2007 settlement between treaty tribes and non-tribal commercial shellfish growers. The settlement compensates tribes for lost opportunities to gather shellfish at traditional areas, enabling them to acquire and enhance tidelands elsewhere.

“We want to develop these beaches to provide resources for tribal members long after the settlement money is gone,” said Scott Schuyler, Upper Skagit’s natural resources director. “Our goal is to have a self-sustaining operation within the next five to 10 years.”

So far, tribal natural resources staff has planted 20 acres with Pacific oysters and manila clams. The oysters are grown two ways: on long lines and in flip bags. Long lines are the more traditional way of growing oysters commercially. Oysters grow in large clusters on seeded “mother” shells strung between posts in the tidelands. Flip bags are a newer technology that produces a higher-value oyster. Seeds are placed in bags that tumble with the tides, breaking off the rough edges of the shell. The result is a smoother shell, deeper cup and more consistent shape of the oyster.

“We’re experimenting with the flip bags and hope to branch out to grow other species, like geoducks,” Schuyler said. “I’m proud of how much progress we’ve made with the site.”

Oysters and clams from the tribe’s beds were served at the Upper Skagit Blessing of the Fleet this spring. Future plans include developing a site near Larrabee State Park near the border between Skagit and Whatcom counties.

Shellfish harvest in Samish Bay frequently is closed because of potential fecal coliform pollution from stormwater runoff and nearby farms.

“Shellfish closures caused by water pollution violate our treaty right to gather shellfish,” Schuyler said. “These continual closures are an issue that needs to be seriously addressed at all levels of government.”

For more information, contact:
Scott Schuyler, natural resources director, Upper Skagit Tribe, 360-854-7009 or sschuyler@upperskagit.com; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or kneumeyer@nwifc.org.