On March 19, Whatcom County announced that shellfish beds in Portage Bay will open for harvest in the spring.
This is great news for shellfish harvesters and for Lummi Nation ceremonial, subsistence and commercial harvests.
“We strive for a healthier Portage Bay, where a harvest closure is a bigger surprise than a harvest reopening,” said Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources and member of the Portage Bay Shellfish District Advisory Committee. “We applaud the work that has led to this moment. It is critical that we keep a collaborative process to make economically and ecologically damaging harvest closures an extreme case.”
This spring opening is definitely worth celebrating, but is only part of the picture. The pattern of fall shellfish harvest closure is still anticipated due to the rainy season elevating levels of fecal coliform bacteria entering local streams and other waterways. Fecal coliform bacteria is an indicator that there is feces from warm-blooded animals, and likely pathogens, in the water. Dangerous spikes in fecal coliform levels can still occur, particularly after autumn rain events throughout our county, including Portage Bay and in the Nooksack River that flows into it. When harvest was closed for 10 years due to the bacteria levels from 1996-2006, Lummi Nation lost over $8 million in revenue. Portions of the harvest area were closed again in 2014.
Although Whatcom County data from February 2016 to January 2019 shows that average bacteria counts often meet health standards for most of the watershed, 70 percent of test sites also have unacceptably high spikes after rainfall, carrying bacteria into Portage Bay.