Drayton Harbor [1]

Drayton Harbor has cleaned up its act after a long struggle with pollution. The harbor recently reopened to year-round commercial oyster harvesting for the first time in 22 years.

A clean Drayton Harbor can produce up to $2 million in oysters from 100 acres each year, according to Geoff Menzies, manager of the Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm. But the real values come in the form of social benefits produced by sharing locally grown oysters, recreational opportunities from clean water, and cultural traditions, both tribal and non-tribal.

Many sources polluted the harbor over the years, including runoff from agricultural operations, effluent from damaged onsite sewage systems, and untreated discharge from boats, marinas, industry, urban stormwater, and other sources. The situation was so serious that the Washington State Department of Health closed the entire harbor to shellfish harvesting from 1988 to 1999. In 1996, several stakeholders decided to take action and created a Shellfish Protection District. This allowed the community to pro-actively begin improving water quality by:

  • Implementing the Washington Dairy Nutrient Management Act and agricultural best management practices in the watershed
  • Increasing septic system operation and maintenance activities
  • Upgrading a membrane bioreactor treatment, part of the City of Blaine’s stormwater treatment system
  • Implementing a Pollution Identification and Correction (PIC) program aimed at finding and fixing non-point pollution sources

Restoration takes time: After more than 20 years of water quality restoration work, the Drayton Harbor community celebrated the Washington State Department of Health’s approval of 810 acres of the shellfish growing area to harvest in late 2016.

The University of Washington’s Puget Sound Institute recently wrote that “the story of Drayton Harbor’s recovery is being played out on beaches throughout Puget Sound, as the region strives to restore more than 10,000 net acres of shellfish beds to year-round harvest—an accomplishment rarely seen anywhere in the world.”

Funding Sources:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • State and local funding

Congressional District: 1


  • Trillium Corporation
  • Puget Sound Restoration Fund
  • Drayton Harbor Oyster Company
  • Drayton Harbor Community Oyster Farm
  • Washington State Department of Health
  • Local dairies and other farms
  • Whatcom Conservation District
  • Whatcom County
  • Drayton Harbor community members



Drayton Harbor harvest celebration by Jack Kitner

Photo credits: Betsy Peabody (featured image), Jack Kintner

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