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Gov. Gregoire announces 280 additional acres of Hood Canal now open for shellfish harvest

For Immediate Release: December 4, 2012

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced that an additional 280 acres of Hood Canal shellfish beds in Mason County have been upgraded by the state Department of Health from “prohibited” to ”approved” for commercial harvest. With this upgrade, the region is 51 percent of the way toward reaching the goal to reopen 7,000 acres of shellfish beds between 2007 and 2020, a vision outlined in the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda.

“Working together, we’re seeing results in our efforts to restore Hood Canal,” said Gregoire. “A clean Puget Sound is vital to our economy, shellfish industry, and quality of life. The investments we’ve made in the Puget Sound are making a difference.”

“When we upgrade shellfish areas it means that water quality has improved, and that means hard work is paying off,” said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “This is good news for people and businesses. Local residents, Mason County officials, and many other people have worked long and hard to help improve water quality in this area, and the upgrade reflects that collaboration. It’s an inspiration for other communities who are doing similar work.”

Gregoire called on state, local, federal and tribal agencies to address closed harvest areas, ocean acidification and other challenges through the Washington Shellfish Initiative, launched in 2011. The initiative helps to focus investments where they can make the most difference, including aquaculture research, and seeks to coordinate efforts to reduce pollutants in shellfish habitats. The state’s $270 million shellfish industry employs more than 3,000 and serves a growing global demand for the highest-quality shellfish available.

“Shellfish harvesting is a treaty right for tribes, a vital industry in our region, and a treasured tradition for countless Northwest families,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “Shellfish health begins on land, by preventing and reducing pollution. This upgrade is a result of the region’s coordinated investment in improving the water quality.”

The upgrade of the shellfish beds on Hood Canal is due to major improvements in the sanitary conditions of the watershed and substantial improvements in water quality. The tidelands near Belfair were downgraded to “prohibited” in 1987 due to runoff and pollution from failing septic systems. During the 2010-2011 survey of shoreline septic systems, no problems were identified. The last hurdle to reclassification of the beds was the recent completion of a wastewater collection system and water reclamation facility to serve the Belfair urban growth area, further reducing the potential for sewage to contaminate the shellfish area.

“Fixing poorly functioning septic systems reduces the risk of bacterial contamination, and we can measure how this improves water quality in the canal by the re-opening of previously closed shellfish beds,” said the Department of Ecology’s Southwest Regional Director Sally Toteff. “Everyone – from Hood Canal residents and visitors to people connected to the greater Puget Sound – gains quality of life benefits when water becomes healthier for shellfish and other marine life, for swimming and boating, and for simply enjoying.”

The Puget Sound Partnership is the state agency leading the recovery and restoration of Puget Sound that coordinates the efforts of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists and businesses to set priorities, implement a regional recovery plan and ensure accountability for results.

The Department of Health is responsible for the safety of commercial shellfish harvested in the state. The department’s Office of Shellfish and Water Protection uses national standards to classify all commercial shellfish harvesting areas. It also regulates municipal wastewater and septic systems.