Oyster fest to fire up support for clean harbor

Published on Thu, May 2, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Oyster fest to fire up support for clean harbor

By Meg Olson

Last weekend, volunteers with the community oyster farm hit the tideflats to tend their crop. This weekend they’ll share a taste of things to come with the community, in hopes slurping oysters from other harbors will motivate cleanup efforts in Drayton Harbor.

The Schuckin’ on the Spit festival at Resort Semiahmoo on Saturday will raise funds for Drayton Harbor’s restoration and, organizers hope, raise awareness of what’s at stake if pollution in the harbor can’t be curbed in the next two years. “The message is, we have a wealth of resources here. We want people to understand we could produce this kind of feed here but we can’t because of water quality,” said Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District president and community oyster farm coordinator Geoff Menzies. The plan, Menzies said, was to hold the event for the next three years – this year and the next with oysters, mussels, crab and other local seafood donated by Washington producers and prepared by Semiahmoo chefs. In the third year, they hope the state will have reclassified the harbor and the two acres of oysters planted on the tideflats will be the main course.

Menzies said the oyster farm work party found the crop in good shape. Fifty-five percent of the seed planted in the fall have survived. “That’s pretty good,” Menzies said. “The first year is the most critical for survival.” The oysters have grown from 3/8-inch seed to an average of three inches long. “A lot of that growth is just shell. They’ll fatten up from here and we’ll have nice shuckable product in spring of 2004,” Menzies said.

A testament to the beauty of Drayton Harbor oysters, an oyster selected by the tideflat farmers to represent them at the state SLURP event in Olympia April 28 tied for the second most beautiful oyster in the state.
“This was not an oyster from our planting but was about four or five years old, probably reset from one of our old plantings.” Menzies was the last commercial oyster farmer in Drayton Harbor before the 1995 closure of the harvest to shellfish harvesting because of high fecal coliform levels.
Two dollars from every $15 entry to the Shuckin’ on the Spit festival will go to the Puget Sound Restoration Fund to support the community oyster farm and implement the recommendations of the shellfish district advisory committee to stem the flow of fecal coliform pollution into Drayton Harbor. “We have a plan but it doesn’t get done with a book sitting on a shelf,” Menzies said.

A recent re-analysis of state department of health water quality monitoring data has narrowed the focus of water quality efforts, pointing to Blaine Harbor as the likely culprit. Following evidence that rainfall was closely linked to sudden spikes in fecal coliform levels that skew the average the department of health uses to decide whether it’s safe to harvest shellfish, the department took a look at the data cutting out all samples that were preceded by more than 1/2 inch of rain in four days or less. If the harbor could meet state standards with rainfall data cut out, there is a possibility that approval for shellfish harvesting in dry periods, a condition set on other state waters, could be obtained.

“They found all the stations in Drayton Harbor met state standards if you exclude the rain data except station 8, which exceeded it hugely,” Menzies said. “What it tells us is we’ve got a constant chronic source right there.” Test station eight lies just south of the marina breakwater. Test sites within the marina all remained high above state maximum standards for fecal coliform.

“It’s Blaine Harbor where we know we have contamination and it’s not getting better. The port’s been sampling that water for years and it looks cruddy,” Menzies said. “We know on a flood tide water comes out of the marina and moves across the eastern side test station. It stands to reason we have to solve the problem in Blaine Harbor. The state has told us they aren’t going to reclassify the oyster beds until we solve the pollution in Blaine Harbor.”

Menzies said the top project to tackle pollution in the marina was a multi-day dye test to discount the possibility the Blaine sewer system is leaking into the harbor. Another priority would be controlling potential discharges from pleasure boats and liveaboards. “Right now if you take a boat into the harbor there are no signs indicating pump-out stations,” he said. “We have lots of boats come in these waters that don’t have the same practices or laws we have. When they come into Drayton Harbor there’s nothing to tell them it’s a sensitive area.” There is a sign at the entrance to Blaine Harbor.

Menzies said improvements to control and treat stormwater flowing into the harbor and to hobby farms along the creeks that feed the harbor were ongoing efforts, as was public education. “We need to focus and educate everyone around the harbor,” he said. “This next year is critical. We aren’t going to do this forever.”

The Shuckin’ on the Spit event is meant to motivate and educate the community as well as feed them. The seafood feast may be the event centerpiece, but tideflat tours, visits to the oyster beds on the Plover ferry and educational displays and workshops will try to involve everyone in efforts to clean up the harbor. The festival is about celebration as well as education, Menzies said, and will include shucking contests, music, a wine and beer garden, clowns and crafts, all highlighting the potential for a 200,000 oyster harvest in 2004. ‘“This project has become a symbol,” Menzies said. “A symbol of a community that wants to regain its water quality.”.

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