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Bacteria Forces Closure of Shellfish Harvest in Samish Bay

The state Department of Health expects Samish Bay to be closed 30 to 70 days this year because of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

“When Samish Bay has high bacteria levels, the shellfish do, too,” Secretary of Health Mary Selecky said in an announcement. “We know this is a hardship for shellfish operations here, but we must make sure that contaminated shellfish don’t reach consumers. Based on our state’s previous successes in restoring polluted waters, we hope for quick progress with the plans to clean up the Samish Bay watershed.”

Samish Bay, near Anacortes, Washington, is a shellfish source for commercial and Coast Salish harvesters. The largely rural upland areas drain into the Samish River, and when it rains, contaminants wash off the land into the river and then into the bay. In 2010, the bay was closed to shellfish harvesting 14 times for a total of 63 days.

More than 20 non-profit groups, businesses and government agencies formed Clean Samish in 2009 to speed cleanup in the bay, river and nearby streams. Several initiatives are under way.

The County of Skagit is identifying pollution sources and working with residents and property owners to correct them; sources include agricultural runoff, faulty septic systems, human recreational activities, and liveaboard boats in marinas. The Samish Indian Nation is restoring a riparian area of Thomas Creek and conducting water quality monitoring and outreach to neighbors.

Low-interest loans are available for property owners who need to replace failing septic systems. Property owners can receive funds to plant native tree buffers along fish-bearing streams and rivers. Organizations are working with farmers and landowners to develop farm plans to reduce agricultural runoff.