“Community Supported Aquaculture” Enters Second Year
by Geoff Menzies
Geoff Menzies is the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm Manager, volunteers as the chairman of the Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District’s Citizens Advisory Committee and works as a contractor with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a Seattle–based nonprofit, to manage the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm and related projects that focus on shellfish restoration and pollution control in Drayton Harbor. He served on the Whatcom County Planning Commission.
The Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) and the Community Oyster Farm have played an important role in helping to restore water quality in Drayton Harbor since 2001. When we started this multi-faceted project, oyster farming and harvest were entirely prohibited in Drayton Harbor. After generating many new partnerships and more than $500,000 in funds to help restore water quality, we have seen improvements in water quality and been able to grow and harvest oysters from prime tidelands on a “Conditionally Approved” basis, depending on rainfall amount.
In addition, other tideland areas are being opened up to seasonal conditional harvest of shellfish, which could support more widespread recreational and tribal harvest opportunities.
Current review of data shows that water quality in Drayton Harbor is impaired during the wet season. As a result, the State Department of Health has recently changed the harvest conditions in Drayton Harbor. Beginning in November 2010, all of Drayton Harbor will be automatically closed to shellfish harvest from November through February due to elevated fecal coliform bacteria levels from surface water runoff throughout the watershed during this period. This seasonal closure makes it impossible to support a large-scale oyster-farming venture in the harbor.
The state is working on guidelines to allow harvest for the remainder of the season (March through June) when there is less rainfall and water quality is good enough to allow the safe harvest of shellfish. Even during this spring harvest period, harvest will be temporarily suspended for six days following 24-hour rain events of 3/4 inch of rain or more.
Community Continues Supporting Harvest
Having completed many seasons of direct oyster sales on the docks in Blaine and local sales to seafood retailers and restaurants in Whatcom County, we formed a “Community Supported Aquaculture” (CSA) operation a year ago, which was very successful thanks to the generosity of more than 50 area residents who collectively invested almost $10,000 in the project.
CSAs have been used for small-scale agriculture for many years. The concept is that shareholders, oyster lovers in this case, invest up front in the farm through payment to the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.
Each investor gets a return during the harvest season (March through early June) in the form of fresh Drayton Harbor yearling oysters, valued at $8 per dozen. For example, a $200 investment returns 25 dozen oysters during the three-month long harvest period. With such a great response from local oyster lovers last year, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund matched this shareholder contribution and we had a very successful first year. More than 1,000 dozen yearling oysters were delivered on a weekly basis to shareholders who picked up their delicacies on the dock in Blaine.
Extra oysters were sold to area restaurants including Nimbus, Cliff House, and the Semiahmoo Inn. Sales from these oysters help support the farm as well.
We have gone back to the community again this summer to see if there is interest in running the program for another season. They responded rapidly, investing once again in oyster farming in Drayton Harbor. PSRF stepped up once again to match the shareholder contribution, so we are set to go for Year 2. We have just completed seeding 30,000 Pacific oysters in Drayton Harbor and we anticipate an excellent harvest season next spring. We will have petites, extra small and small oysters available at that time.
Water Quality Programs Scaled Back
We think that continuing the CSA is important for the long-term health of Drayton Harbor and for the eventual full recovery of water quality on a year-round basis. Oysters have been grown in this bay since the early 1900s. Oyster farming represents an important natural resource-based economy in Whatcom County, but to reach its full potential, bacterial pollution from commercial dairies and small farms that are not properly managed and failing septic systems must be controlled in the upper watershed during the winter season.
Whatcom County recently developed programs to reduce bacterial waste from septic systems and livestock on small farms. Unfortunately, these programs are being compromised now either through reduction of ongoing county funding (CPAL Program for small livestock farms) or in the case of septic system maintenance, by recently changed local regulations that will likely delay inspections and compromise the integrity of those inspections. These changes are unfortunate for the health of Drayton Harbor and very untimely.
Prior to these recent changes and over the past two years, more than 2,000 of 3,000 septic systems in the watershed had been inspected and problem systems were repaired for the most part. In addition, the Conservation District received direct funding from Whatcom County to provide technical support to small farms that are required to comply with the Critical Areas Ordinance CPAL program. This requires some small livestock farms to develop farm plans in order to help reduce bacterial contamination of critical areas and surface waters.
As a direct result of this funding, 28 farm plans were created in 2009 in the Drayton Harbor watershed. Twenty-two of these resulted in actions by property owners that led to improvements in water quality. Unfortunately, mostly due to shortsightedness of many of our elected officials and “tough economic times,” these advances (which were long overdue when initiated two years ago) are being reined in to some extent.
If you want to learn more about the Drayton Harbor CSA and other projects of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, go to their website at www.restorationfund.org or contact me directly at 384-9135 or firstname.lastname@example.org. §