Joint Portage Bay/Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committee
The Whatcom County Council has created advisory committees for each of the three 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. Natural Resource staff provide technical assistance to advisory committees and other county departments and collaborate with local, tribal, state, and federal agencies and citizen groups to recover water quality and shellfish growing areas in Whatcom County. Visit the Water Quality page for more information on this program.
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:
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. In October 2019, an additional 765 acres of shellfish beds were upgraded to year-round harvest. Efforts continue through the Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program to identify and address bacteria sources to maintain year-round harvest in these areas and expand harvest to additional areas of the harbor.
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. With improved water quality in Terrell Creek, 129 acres of shellfish beds were reopened to year-round harvest in January 2018.
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, resulting in spring and fall closures (6 months of the year). As of April 1, 2019 the spring shellfish harvesting restrictions were lifted due to improved water quality and on the ground actions community members have taken. Fall harvesting restrictions remain in place from October 1st to December 31st each year. Efforts continue through the PIC Program to identify and address sources of bacteria to lift fall restrictions and maintain harvest during the rest of the year.
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. Most current plans are listed below.
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. Find the links to the 2020 Annual Growing Area Reviews for Whatcom County below.
Visit the Resource Library to view more information and reports related to fresh and marine water quality in Whatcom County. The resource library includes program brochures and tips sheets, monitoring protocols, and annual water quality reports for freshwater. You can also find the State Department of Health Sanitary Survey reports, source tracking and eDNA research, and circulation study results.
For more information on pollution identification and correction (PIC) in Whatcom County and to view current water quality monitoring results visit: whatcomcounty.us/1072/water-quality