Port Gamble: The harbor we share | Noo Kayet | December

Port Gamble Bay. If you’ve been reading this column over the past several months you know about the Tribe’s connection to this gem, the need for clean-up action, and the proposed projects and developments that could affect her current and future health.

In my job, I spend a lot of time talking to people all around Kitsap County. While many have some understanding of present projects and future plans concerning the Bay, few—excepting environmental scientists, researchers, and enthusiasts—really know the Bay beyond its stunning views.

Port Gamble Bay has always been and continues to be an important part of the Kitsap community. Located on the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula, the Bay opens up into the Hood Canal and is surrounded by the communities of Port Gamble (her namesake!), Gamblewood, Kingston, Poulsbo, Hansville and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Reservation. The Bay is a daily part of hundreds—if not thousands—of lives around the County.

Port Gamble Bay:

• Spans 1,210 acres, is more than two miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide.

• Is 80 feet deep at its deepest point and contains approximately 147,400 acre-feet of water at high tide—that’s more than 48 billion gallons.

• Sustains an abundance of undersea life including geoducks; manilla, little neck, butter and other clam species; oysters, stocks of herring, crab, shrimp and many species of fish, including endangered Puget Sound salmon, Hood Canal summer-run Chum and Puget Sound steelhead.

• Intersects with a number of smaller waterways, including Martha John Creek. Many of these streams and creeks support populations of Coho and fall Chum salmon.

• Is home to the second largest herring stock in Puget Sound. Herring is a major food source for Chinook and steelhead salmon.

• Brings in over $1 million annually from harvested geoduck, much of which is shipped overseas—to places like China and Japan—where the meat is a delicacy. The Bay Supports approximately 4,418,000 pounds of these large-shelled clams in its inside and Point Julia tracts.

• Is the last Bay in Kitsap County, and one of the few remaining in Puget Sound), that is still open for commercial and domestic shellfish harvesting. This isn’t to say she hasn’t had her problems: various tracts and sections have been closed intermittently due to pollution levels.

Today, many members of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe use the bay to support their families. This includes everything from fishing her beaches and water for their subsistence needs to commercial fish and shellfish harvests.

Not much in this regard has changed since our Tribe first settled here. The Tribe fishes for their food and livelihood. This was true when they called the area that is now Port Gamble home, before the Pope & Talbot sawmill was established in 1853, and when their ancestors were relocated across the bay to accommodate the growing mill operation. It’s true today. Fishing is a way of life for the S’Klallam people. It always has been and always will be.

Whether it’s helped support the commercial fishing industry, the logging industry such as the Pope & Talbot sawmill, or simply been a breathtaking focal point of the County, Port Gamble Bay has been a friend and neighbor for generations. With the right clean-up action, protections and conservation, we can assure that it’s restored to its pre-mill productive and healthy state helping to support the Tribe for seven more generations and beyond. This, in turn, will benefit us all well into the future.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching a new website and newsletter devoted to the protection and restoration of the Bay, including how you can show your support. We’ll keep you posted.

Paul McCollum is director of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s Natural Resources Department.