Fecal Pollution Restricts Shellfish Harvest in Mason, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston Counties

ALERT – PLEASE KNOW BEFORE YOU DIG. Not only is fecal pollution impacting our shellfish growers, but biotoxins along with fecal pollution are closing our beaches for casual weekend recreational shellfish harvesting, including clams, oysters, and scallops. It is imperative you check the Washington State Department of Health’s safety map Shellfish Safety Map. It is updated daily.

Illnesses from biotoxins and fecal pollutants can be severe and deadly. Paralytic Shellfish Poison (PSP) is a naturally occurring marine biotoxin that is produced by some species of microscopic algae. Shellfish eat these algae and can retain the toxin. People can become ill from eating shellfish contaminated with Paralytic Shellfish Poison. This biotoxin affects the nervous system and paralyzes muscles, thus the term “paralytic” shellfish poison. High levels of Paralytic Shellfish Poison can cause severe illness and death.

Fecal pollution often expresses itself as Norovirus. The most common symptoms of norovirus are stomach pain, projectile vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Other symptoms may include fever, headache, and body aches.

Pollution and Biotoxins are wreaking havoc on our pristine Northwest and Canadian waters. Just recently we were advised to avoid oysters from British Columbia. Now it is affecting our entire coastline. People can help by maintaining their septic systems, picking up pet waste, using pump out stations for boats and recreational vehicles, and managing animal waste from large and small farms. While often we enjoy beautiful gardens, being extremely careful about how much and the type of fertilizer you use is critical. With rain and watering, the runoff finds its way to our water systems.

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has completed the annual water quality evaluation of the state’s commercial shellfish growing areas. Unfortunately, high fecal bacteria levels will lead to harvest restrictions in four of Washington’s 115 shellfish growing areas. An additional 19 areas currently meet water quality standards but are threatened with classification downgrades. State health officials are working with county partners, shellfish growers, and tribal governments to implement the required classification changes and to find and fix pollution problems.

Portions of the Annas Bay, (Mason County), Vaughn Bay (Pierce County), Port Susan (Snohomish County), and Henderson Inlet (Thurston County) do not meet public health standards and shellfish harvesting will be restricted. The restrictions will be in place by August 2022.

Shellfish harvest areas currently meeting water quality standards, but threatened with restrictions due to bacterial pollution, include:

  • Clallam County: Dungeness Bay, Makah Bay
  • Jefferson County: Quilcene Bay
  • Kitsap County: Miller Bay
  • Mason County: Annas Bay, Hood Canal 5, Hood Canal 6, North Bay, Oakland Bay, Pickering Passage
  • Pacific County: Bay Center
  • Pierce County: Filucy Bay, Vaughn Bay, Wollochet Bay
  • Snohomish County: Port Susan, Skagit Bay South
  • Thurston County: Henderson Inlet
  • Whatcom County: Drayton Harbor, Portage Bay

“Our state’s collaborative approach toward water quality improvement has led to the successful reopening of many shellfish harvesting areas,” said Scott Berbells, manager of the Shellfish Growing Area Section. “Clean water is the result of everyone doing their part.”

Final word is to be incredibly careful and check the source of any shellfish you purchase or harvest and consume.

Marcee Maylin has a degree in Editorial Journalism from the University of Washington and 30+ years media experience. She is currently the Editor of the Everett Post dedicated to providing current, relevant, and entertaining content for the local community.