According to a Pierce County press release from earlier this year, approximately 1,450 acres of tidelands in the Penrose Point area meet water quality and shoreline criteria for the “approved” classification, following a state Department of Health sanitary survey of the area. The area is approved for commercial shellfish growing, and that is good news for all clam diggers and shellfish fishermen around the Key Peninsula, officials said.

According to Pierce County Environmental Health Specialist Ray Hanowell, the shellfish program that is in place works well. It tries to sample all the flows into the Key Peninsula waters including Burley, Minter, Rocky Bay, Vaughn, Filucy Bay, Dutcher Cove, and Mayo Cove. The sampling involves dye testing twice in the wet seasons and twice in the dry seasons, and sanitary survey work on a five-years basis. The health of the shellfish beds are usually a good measure of the water quality in general.

The water quality of the peninsula shellfish habitat is good in general, thanks to recent efforts by county citizens and government officials. They have achieved improvements in water quality where problems had resulted in the closure of 210 acres of Pierce County commercial growing areas between 1981 and 2004.

A relatively small portion of waters around the two Penrose Point marinas and the one private Lakebay marina, however, do not meet water quality standards and are classified as “prohibited” for commercial shellfish cultivation. The classifications are based on shoreline pollution evaluations and marine water quality samples collected from eight sample stations between June 2001 and October 2004.

Hanowell says, “Though the marina area does not qualify for harvesting, (I’m) confident that the main body of water is good quality for harvesting shellfish.”  With regard to prohibitive restrictions around marinas, Hanowell comments that the state “always has a closure zone around marinas, if I understand correctly.”

Marinas and boating are not the only potential source of water pollution. Shoreline surveys resulted in the identification and the repair of three failing private septic systems and also identified three agricultural farms and 13 hobby farms that may be contributing to downstream pollution due to stream access by livestock, overgrazing and runoff management problems. Hanowell says the Pierce Conservation District has employed a full-time farm planner who works with farmers to provide animal keeping practices, which minimizes water quality impacts.

A good and improved water quality seems to hold true around the peninsula east to west. Filucy only has a small portion of restricted area and its marina is prohibited, but the rest of the water quality looks good. Vaughn Bay has come a long way from the days when it was closed to shellfish harvesting. Hanowell says, “Years ago it (Vaughn Bay) was horrible, but it is looking real good.”

Hanowell recommends checking the DOH Website at www.doh.wa.gov. The DOH map showing Puget Sound includes maps of shellfish areas and their classifications and will show closures for recreational fishing for shellfish.

More information
For more information or concerns call Ray Hanowell, Pierce County environmental health specialist at 798-2845 or see www.doh.wa.gov.

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