Shellfish Protection Districts

Natural Resource staff provide technical assistance to advisory committees and other county departments and collaborates with local, tribal, state, and federal agencies and citizen groups to recover water quality and shellfish growing areas in Whatcom County.

Shellfish Protection Districts


The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Chapter 90.72 requires that the county legislative authority create a shellfish protection district within 180 days after the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) closes or downgrades a shellfish growing area due to a degradation of water quality. There are 3 Shellfish Protection Districts that have been established in Whatcom County:
Beach at Sunset

2014 Shellfish Protection District Ordinance Birch Bay (2009)

The Birch Bay Shellfish Protection District was established in 2009 following a downgrade of 670 acres around the mouth of Terrell Creek.  This closure was based upon elevated bacteria levels in Terrell Creek, the major freshwater drainage to Birch Bay.  Monitoring and water quality improvement efforts have been underway in coordination with the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) District. http://www.bbwarm.whatcomcounty.org/ 

Drayton Harbor (1995)

The Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District was established in 1995 following a downgrade of a portion of the harbor. In 1999, the downgrade was expanded to include the entire harbor. Through the hard efforts of community members, water quality has shown improvements in both the freshwater and marine systems. In December 2016, shellfish harvesting restrictions were lifted from 810 acres of shellfish growing areas resulting in the first year-round commercial, tribal, and recreational shellfish harvesting in Drayton Harbor in over 20 years. Efforts continue through the Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program (http://www.whatcomcounty.us/1072/Water-Quality) to identify and address bacteria sources to upgrade the remaining portions of the harbor.

Portage Bay (1998)

The Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District was established in 1998 following a downgrade of a portion of the bay.  Through various efforts, water quality improved in both the freshwater and marine systems leading to the reopening of shellfish growing areas in 2003 and 2006.  However, bacteria levels once again became elevated in the Nooksack River and Portage Bay leading to new downgrades in 2015 and 2016.  Currently, 796 acres are closed to shellfish harvesting during the spring and winter each year (April through June and October through December).  Efforts are underway through the Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program (http://www.whatcomcounty.us/1072/Water-Quality) to identify and address bacteria sources to improve water quality and lift shellfish harvest restrictions.

Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committees

The Whatcom County Council has created advisory committees for each of the established shellfish protection districts.  The advisory committees advise the County Council on proposed actions and operations relating to the restoration of water quality in the associated districts.

Shellfish Recovery Plans
Shellfish Recovery Plans have been created for each of these districts. The plans outline the primary sources of bacteria and actions to improve water quality.

Current Status of Shellfish Growing Areas


The Washington State Department of Health prepares annual reviews for commercial shellfish growing areas that describe the current status of each area and marine water quality data. Links to the 2016 Annual Growing Area Reviews for Whatcom County are provided here

More Information

 For more information about the Shellfish Protection District programs contact Erika Douglas via email.