Portage Bay is among 14 commercial shellfish growing areas in the state that could be closed to harvesting if fecal coliform pollution worsens, the state Department of Health warned.
The agency’s shellfish program, which monitors more than 101 commercial shellfish growing areas in the state, has stopped commercial harvesting in part of Vaughn Bay in Pierce County because of unsafe levels of fecal bacteria, according to a news release.
Shellfish growing areas in Portage Bay have been under “threatened” status since 2012 because of poor water quality, according to a representative for the agency’s shellfish program.
“We’re just trying to get a warning out there so people will clean things up before we have to close or restrict harvesting,” said Bob Woolrich, the shellfish program’s growing area section manager.
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He noted there have been successful projects to clean up water quality through partnerships that included state and local agencies as well as tribes.
“Threatened” status means the area is open for harvesting and, for now, would be closed only in the event of an emergency such as flooding on the Nooksack River, which empties into Portage Bay.
Fecal coliform bacteria come from human and animal feces. The bacteria enter Whatcom County’s waterways in several ways — horse and cow manure, pet and wildlife waste, and failing septic systems. The bacteria could contaminate shellfish and sicken people who eat them.
Portage Bay is home to the Lummi Nation’s shellfish beds, which were closed for six years — ending in 2003 — because sewage and manure fouled the Nooksack River.
Portage Bay has been under threatened status since 2012.