Suquamish Tribe to resume Liberty Bay shellfish harvesting

POULSBO — The Suquamish Tribe will soon be surveying portions of the western shore of Liberty Bay for shellfish harvests later this year.

Viviane Barry, the shellfish program manager for the Suquamish Tribe, said harvests would take place around the fall and winter, on the western side of the bay. This development comes after tidelands that are co-managed by the tribe and the Washington State Department of Health were reclassified as being suitable for conditional shellfish harvests.

In order to get the word out about the harvests, the tribe recently invited shorefront property owners to a clam bake at the House of Awakened Culture on May 19 in order to answer any questions they might have. The reception, Barry said, was overwhelmingly positive.

“It was very well received,” she said. “They were curious and they had questions but it was positive.”

The clam bake, Barry said, offered property owners from Dyes Inlet — where the tribe has already been harvesting — the opportunity to talk with Liberty Bay property owners and relay their experiences.

In addition to conducting harvests along the tidelands, the Suquamish Tribe also offers property owners the ability to lease their tidelands to the tribe. This means that owners can relinquish their half of the shellfish in exchange for a share of the profits from the commercial sale of the shellfish gathered. Areas leased to the tribe are reseeded with clam larvae following the harvest.

Shellfish will be gathered in harvest areas about once every three years and the areas will be surveyed by tribal biologists to monitor the health of the tidelands and determine when the they are suitable for another harvest. Property owners will be notified in advance of any harvest activities and as a courtesy the tribe can also provide owners with survey reports on the health of their tidelands.

The prospect of resuming shellfish harvests in areas untouched by the tribe for decades is an exciting one, said April Leigh, a spokesperson for the Suquamish Tribe. Leigh estimated that the new grounds could mean up to a 25 percent increase over current harvesting being done by the tribe. Leigh, however, is not the only one excited about the return of shellfish harvesting.

In an email exchange with Kitsap News Group, Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said the return of tribal shellfish harvesting on Liberty Bay was a symptom of the great strides taken to clean up the bay in recent years.

“The City of Poulsbo has worked very hard to clean up Liberty Bay, spending millions of dollars in storm water improvements and improvements to our sewer systems to prevent accidental spills,” Erickson said. “It was one of my highest priorities when I became mayor in 2010. We had dozens of meetings with the health district, the county, the tribe, state Department of Ecology to move this process forward. I remember early on arguing over microbial source tracking, a relatively new technology that allowed folks to use DNA and chemical compounds to determine the source of the fecal coliform so that we could use the right techniques to fix the problems.”

“Years of work,” Erickson said. “But now the bay is much cleaner. Cleaner than it was in 1970.”

—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick Can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpub