Shellfish Protection Districts

Drayton Harbor_press release
Birch Bay_press release
Portage Bay_press release

Meeting Notice: Joint Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor Shellfish Advisory Committee. Wednesday, July 28th from 3pm-5pm.

The meeting will be held via Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/86953229494

Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committees

The Whatcom County Council has created advisory committees for each of the three established shellfish protection districts. The advisory committees advise the County Council on proposed actions and operations relating to the restoration of water quality in the associated districts. Natural Resource staff provide technical assistance to advisory committees and other county departments and collaborate with local, tribal, state, and federal agencies and citizen groups to recover water quality and shellfish growing areas in Whatcom County.Visit the Water Quality page for more information on this program.

  • Portage Bay & Drayton Harbor SPD Advisory Committees. View Page.  
  • Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management District Advisory Committee. View Page.

History of the Shellfish Protection Districts

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Chapter 90.72 requires that the county legislative authority create a shellfish protection district within 180 days after the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) closes or downgrades a shellfish growing area due to a degradation of water quality. There are 3 Shellfish Protection Districts that have been established in Whatcom County:

Drayton Harbor (1995)

The Drayton Harbor Shellfish Protection District was established in 1995 following a downgrade of a portion of the harbor. In 1999, the downgrade was expanded to include the entire harbor. Through the hard efforts of community members, water quality has shown improvements in both the freshwater and marine systems. In December 2016, shellfish harvesting restrictions were lifted from 810 acres of shellfish growing areas resulting in the first year-round commercial, tribal, and recreational shellfish harvesting in Drayton Harbor in over 20 years. In October 2019, an additional 765 acres of shellfish beds were upgraded to year-round harvest. Efforts continue through the Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) Program to identify and address bacteria sources to maintain year-round harvest in these areas and expand harvest to additional areas of the harbor.

Birch Bay (2009)

The Birch Bay Shellfish Protection District was established in 2009 following a downgrade of 670 acres around the mouth of Terrell Creek.  This closure was based upon elevated bacteria levels in Terrell Creek, the major freshwater drainage to Birch Bay.  Monitoring and water quality improvement efforts have been underway in coordination with the Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) District. With improved water quality in Terrell Creek, 129 acres of shellfish beds were reopened to year-round harvest in January 2018.

Shellfish Harvesting Reopened in Birch Bay - Press Release January 22, 2018 

Portage Bay (1998)

The Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District was established in 1998 following a downgrade of a portion of the bay.  Through various efforts, water quality improved in both the freshwater and marine systems leading to the reopening of shellfish growing areas in 2003 and 2006.  However, bacteria levels once again became elevated in the Nooksack River and Portage Bay leading to new downgrades in 2015 and 2016, resulting in spring and fall closures (6 months of the year). As of April 1, 2019 the spring shellfish harvesting restrictions were lifted due to improved water quality and on the ground actions community members have taken. Fall harvesting restrictions remain in place from October 1st to December 31st each year. Efforts continue through the PIC Program to identify and address sources of bacteria to lift fall restrictions and maintain harvest during the rest of the year.

Join the Advisory Committees!


Drayton Harbor and Portage Bay Shellfish Protection District Advisory Committees have open positions. 

Are you interested in efforts to improve and protect water quality and reopen shellfish beds in Whatcom County?  The Portage Bay and Drayton Harbor Shellfish Advisory Committees meet quarterly and provide feedback guidance on water quality and shellfish recovery efforts in Whatcom County. Visit the County Council webpage for boards and commissions to view the vacancies and apply.

Contact Us

For more information about the Shellfish Protection District programs contact Erika Douglas via email.

Learn more about the PIC Program and Water Quality here.

California Creek
Boat in Portage Bay

Shellfish Recovery Plans

Shellfish Recovery Plans have been created for each of these districts. The plans outline the primary sources of bacteria and actions to improve water quality. Most current plans are listed below.

Current Status of Shellfish Growing Areas

The Washington State Department of Health prepares annual reviews for commercial shellfish growing areas that describe the current status of each area and marine water quality data. Find the links to the 2020 Annual Growing Area Reviews for Whatcom County below.

Annual Reports to Washington State Department of Health
Annual reports summarizing specific activities to improve water quality are provided to the Washington State Department of Health. These reports use a standard template for all of the shellfish protection districts in the state.

Portage Bay SPD
Annual Reports

2019
2018
2017
2016
2015

Drayton Harbor SPD
Annual Reports

2019
2018
2017
2016

Growing Areas_graphic

Additional Resources

Visit the Resource Library to view more information and reports related to fresh and marine water quality in Whatcom County. The resource library includes program brochures and tips sheets, monitoring protocols, and annual water quality reports for freshwater. You can also find the State Department of Health Sanitary Survey reports, source tracking and eDNA research, and circulation study results. 

For more information on pollution identification and correction (PIC) in Whatcom County and to view current water quality monitoring results visit: whatcomcounty.us/1072/water-quality