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Whatcom Watch Online
Pollution Is Destroying Oyster Farming in Drayton Harbor

March 2015

Twenty Years Ago

Pollution Is Destroying Oyster Farming in Drayton Harbor

by Geoff Menzies

To celebrate over 20 years of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be publishing excerpts from 20 years ago. David M. Laws has been generous enough to volunteer to review the Whatcom Watch from 20 years ago to find suitable material to reprint. The below excerpts are from the March 1995 issue of Whatcom Watch.

To say that oyster farming in the ‘90s has its challenges is a gross understatement. When the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company began investing time, money, and oyster seeds in Drayton Harbor several years ago, our challenges centered around the business of growing oysters. What method of culture works best in Drayton Harbor? … What markets should we pursue? These and other production related questions have been replaced by a myriad of activities that are centered around both point source and non-point source pollution that is driving us out of the harbor and our business into the drink.

Due to deterioration of water quality caused by elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria, the Washington State Department of Health downgraded the shellfish growing areas in Drayton Harbor on January 11, 1995. The pollution sources identified in their report include:

• two marinas

• sewage bypasses

• farm management practices

• failing onsite sewage systems

• wastewater discharges from seafood processors

• Blaine sewage treatment plant outfall located outside Drayton Harbor

The nature of non-point pollution is that it is difficult if not impossible to attribute a certain percentage of the pollution to one source or the other. The end result is that most of Drayton Harbor no longer meets the standards for the safe harvest of shellfish due to the cumulative effects of all of these sources.

Who is affected by this? The most obvious initial impact is to shellfish harvesters. We are no longer able to harvest directly from our beds and sell to the marketplace. Harvested oysters are relayed to approved waters in another bay where they are cleansed of Drayton contaminants over a two month period before being reharvested and sold in the marketplace. We have lost our fresh market sales entirely and now bear the additional expense of harvesting twice. The future of our business depends on reseeding every spring; a risky proposition at best under current circumstances. The tribes can no longer harvest clams for subsistence use at the end of Semiahmoo Spit, traditional grounds for them. In addition, the Semiahmoo County Park outside of Drayton Harbor has also been closed to recreational harvesting due to proximity to the sewage treatment plant outfall. Signs should be going up soon along the park beach warning the public that shellfish harvesting is closed due to pollution. These are just the short term and obvious impacts.


The challenge that is before this community is to address these problems head on and find solutions in a timely fashion. Some will be quick fixes but most will require a reevaluation of how we as people relate to and use the land, particularly in sensitive watersheds like Drayton Harbor. A diverse group of community members has developed a non-point pollution control plan for this watershed. It is a balanced and practical plan. It will help steer the short-term response strategy to improve Drayton Harbor water quality that is currently underway, but more importantly it will guide us for the next few years in protecting the watershed as a whole.

This is not a matter of bailing out one oyster farm. We will probably not be able to recover from this setback anyway. It is about preserving the beneficial uses of Drayton Harbor; good stewardship, so that our kids and their kids will be able to enjoy and take pride in this wonderful asset in Whatcom County.

Editor’s Note: The Whatcom County Council created the Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District at the July 18, 1995 meeting. The district was created to identify and address pollution sources affecting the marine environment. The longevity of the group has been periodically extended so it can continue to battle pollution. The current sunset date is 12/31/2018.

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