State plans to close outer Mystery Bay to shellfish harvest
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The sand spit jutting out from the shore of Mystery Bay delineates the inner bay, foreground, and outer bay beyond the spit. The state Department of Health has proposed closure of the outer bay to shellfish harvesting until the number of boats moored there can be dropped to 10 or below. -- Photo by Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News

By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News

NORDLAND -- The state Department of Health has issued a warning that the outer area of Mystery Bay will be closed to commercial shellfish harvest in early August because of too many mooring buoys and boats.

The number of boats is a violation of National Shellfish Program and state health department standards, the agency said.

"We anticipate that the reclassification will be finalized by Aug. 6," said a July 2 state Department of Health letter to the Jefferson County Department of Community Development signed by Maryanne Guichard, Office of Shellfish and Water Protection director.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Natural Resources, which owns the bedlands in Mystery Bay -- a sheltered bay of about 78 acres off Marrowstone Island -- and the rest of the state, has removed six buoys from the outer bay and one in the inner bay, which will help keep those shorelines open to shellfish harvest.

State officials delineate the inner bay by the sand spit that juts out from Griffith Point. The area beyond the spit is considered the outer bay.

Buoys removed

Brady Scott, DNR aquatic district manager based in Chimacum, said the seven buoys were removed June 23, and none had boats attached to them.

"In the whole bay at large, there's really only one boat that's maybe on the verge of being officially a derelict vessel," Scott said, adding that DNR worked in collaboration with the county Department of Community Development and Marrowstone Shellfish Co., based on the shores of the inner bay in Nordland.

DNR will meet with the county community development department and Jake Johnson, manager of Marrowstone Shellfish, on Wednesday to determine the next steps.

"We have several additional buoys where we know the owners, but we have questions to be resolved," Scott said, adding that those steps would include specifying the number of vessels that can be kept on the outer bay and determining if more buoys must be removed.

"We will be working hard over this summer, fall and winter to resolve it so next year we can keep the outer bay open.

"It's a priority for us, and we are continuing to work hard to address the issue," Scott said.

The tribes, state Department of Health, State Parks, the shellfish growers, Marine Resource Committee, county Public Health and county community development are all involved at this point, he said.

Mark Toy, Office of Shellfish and Water Protection representative, cites in a recent report that the last survey of the Mystery Bay growing area was in 2000, which then noted "a large number of boats moored throughout Mystery Bay."

The 2000 report concluded that Jefferson County should review and coordinate the licensing and approval of all mooring buoys in Mystery Bay with DNR.

More boats

An increase in the number of boats moored within Mystery Bay could lead to an expanded closure zone, which could impact commercial shellfish harvesting operations, the report said.

In recent years, more than 60 mooring buoys have spread across the bay, in addition to mooring facilities at Mystery Bay State Park and several private docks. In all, there are structures to accommodate more 100 boats in Mystery Bay.

The number of boats continuously moored in Mystery Bay outside of the State Park is about 30 in the winter. Up to 73 boats have been noted in Mystery Bay during the boating season.

Toy said 10 boats are moored in the immediate area of shellfish harvest sites in the inner and outer bay on a regular basis.

The National Shellfish Sanitation Program's definition of a marina includes any water area with structures such as mooring buoys constructed to provide temporary or permanent docking or mooring for more than 10 boats.

"Based on the dispersed configuration of mooring buoys and the number of transient and continuously moored boats in Mystery Bay, it appears that most of Mystery Bay meets the NSSP's definition of a marina and cannot be classified as approved," Toy said.

The state health department proposes a "conditionally approved classification for the outer portion of Mystery Bay. That means those shores would be closed to shellfish harvest until the standard can be met, meaning fewer than 10 boats.

"The inner bay may continue to remain approved if the number of non-exempt boats in the inner bay does not exceed 10 and no more than 10 boats are moored in the outer bay," the report said.

"The department will continue to work with mooring buoy permitting agencies to reduce the density of mooring buoys around shellfish harvest sites."


Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: July 09. 2009 9:22PM
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