Next phase of Washington Shellfish Initiative renews the state’s commitment to Puget Sound, coastal shellfish resources

TaylorShellfish_Samish-29On Jan. 15, 2016, Governor Inslee announced the next phase of the Washington Shellfish Initiative, renewing the state’s commitment to abundant shellfish resources that support Puget Sound and coastal communities’ commercial, recreational, and shellfish harvest. The Puget Sound Partnership coordinates shellfish efforts in the Puget Sound region to protect and restore healthy shellfish beds.

The Washington Shellfish Initiative is a collaborative partnership with state, federal, tribal, industry and nonprofit partners. This effort aims to protect resources that are at the heart of creating shellfish farming jobs, keeping water clean, and protecting the traditions of eating shellfish from our shores.

“Shellfish are an important part of our economy and our heritage here in Washington,” Inslee said. “The shores of Puget Sound are a nexus point between the health of our citizens, the importance of natural resources to our economy, and the health of our environment, all of which depend on the waters that feed us.”

“We applaud Governor Inslee for solidifying our state’s commitment to clean water and a future that includes healthy, abundant shellfish populations,” said Sheida R. Sahandy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership, whose agency coordinates Puget Sound efforts to protect and restore shellfish beds. “The ability to harvest healthy shellfish is a significant part of our economy, our culture, and our responsibility to uphold tribal treaty rights; that’s why protecting and restoring healthy shellfish beds is one of our top three priorities for Puget Sound recovery efforts.”

“To safeguard this resource for future generations, we must work together to fix known problems such as failing septic systems, and work hand in hand with our agricultural partners to prevent polluted runoff from reaching our waterways. We must also embrace strategies to address emerging issues such as ocean acidification.”

Phase II aims to:

  • Ensure clean water
  • Embrace strategies to address ocean acidification effects on shellfish
  • Advance shellfish research
  • Improve the permitting process to maintain and grow sustainable aquaculture
  • Restore native shellfish
  • Enhance recreational shellfish harvest
  • Educate the next generation about the importance of shellfish

Measuring shellfish health

The health of Washington State’s shellfish beds is measured as part of the Governor’s Results Washington initiative and the Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs ecosystem indicators. The shared 2016 target is to increase improved shellfish beds by a net of 8,614 acres between 2007 and December 2016 by reducing water pollution from onsite sewage systems and agricultural lands. As of November 2015, the Department of Health reports a net increase of 3,813 acres.

The Puget Sound Partnership’s 2015 State of the Sound reports that, as of May 2015, Puget Sound saw a net increase of 2,851 acres of shellfish beds since 2007. This resulted from the reopening of 7,828 acres for harvest and takes into account the fact that 4,977 acres were closed due to poor water quality. The 2020 goal is to achieve a net increase of 10,800 harvestable shellfish areas, including 7,000 acres where harvest had been prohibited.

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Puget Sound shellfish facts

Source: Puget Sound Fact Book

  • Washington State is the leading producer of bivalve shellfish in the United States, generating an estimated $77 million in sales and accounting for 86 percent of the West Coast’s production. Within Puget Sound, farmed shellfish (clams, mussels, geoducks, oysters, and scallops) harvests have ranged from 3.8 million pounds in 1970 to 11.4 million pounds in 2008.
  • Overall, shellfish in Puget Sound have a commercial value of almost $100 million a year.
  • As of May 2015, the Department of Health classified just more than 190,000 acres of shellfish growing areas within 92 different growing areas in the Puget Sound. As of May 2015, more than 36,000 of these 190,000 acres were prohibited.

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By Alicia Lawver