Dungeness Bay Commercial Shellfish Downgrade

Washington State Department of Health (DOH) monitors marine waters for pollution and evaluates shellfish growing areas in the state to determine their suitability for commercial harvest. DOH classifies growing areas as Approved, Conditionally Approved, Restricted, or Prohibited for commercial harvest based on proximity to pollution sources, marine water sampling results, and other factors. Clean water is essential for safe shellfish harvest, because "filter feeders" such as clams, mussels, oysters, and geoducks accumulate bacteria and viruses as they filter large amounts of water in search of food.

Link to Department of Health Commercial Shellfish Map Viewer:

Current Commercial Shellfish Growing Area Classifications 

The map below shows the status of the commercial shellfish downgrade in Dungeness Bay. Clallam County also discourages recreational shellfish harvest from areas that are closed to commercial harvest, because the same health risks apply to recreational and commercial shellfish.

Dungeness Bay Commercial Shellfish Harvest Closure Area 2020

History of Shellfish Downgrades in Dungeness Bay

For years, Dungeness Bay was certified by DOH as Approved for commercial shellfish harvest. Bacterial pollution problems in Dungeness Bay and the lower Dungeness River watershed emerged during the 1990s.

  • In 1997, water quality monitoring by DOH showed fecal coliform bacteria counts were increasing near the mouth of the Dungeness River in Dungeness Bay. By the fall of 1997, bacteria levels near the river mouth exceeded the federal limit for fecal coliform.
  • Starting in November 1999, Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) conducted a series of water quality and stream flow surveys as part of a water cleanup study, also called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study. The study area included the lower Dungeness River, Matriotti Creek, Meadowbrook Creek, and other tributaries. Ecology later performed a second fecal coliform TMDL study for Dungeness Bay.
  • In 2000, DOH reclassified 300 acres of Dungeness Bay near the mouth of the Dungeness River from Approved to Prohibited year-round for commercial shellfish harvest. The shellfish area was downgraded because fecal coliform levels in the bay did not meet National Shellfish Sanitation Program requirements for water quality in commercial shellfish harvesting areas.
  • In 2001, DOH added 100 acres to the closure area.
  • In 2003, DOH classified the entire inner bay as Conditionally Approved, which means the area is open to commercial shellfish harvest from February through October but closed from November through January. The seasonal closure protects public health from elevated fecal bacteria present in the inner bay during the winter. The Prohibited area near the mouth of the river was enlarged slightly in 2003 and remained closed to commercial harvest year-round.
  • In April 2011, DOH upgraded approximately 500 acres of the Dungeness Bay growing area from Prohibited to Conditionally Approved for commercial shellfish harvest.
  • In November of 2015, DOH upgraded an additional 688 acres of the Dungeness Bay growing area from Conditionally Approved to Approved and open year round.  From the DOH Shellfish Growing Area Reclassification Map you will see that Dungeness Bay has been one of the biggest success stories in Puget Sound during this time.
  • In 2016, 272 acres of shellfish growing area just offshore from the Dungeness River mouth were upgraded from “conditionally approved” to “approved.”
  • In 2020, 23 acres of shellfish growing area at the mouth of Golden Sands Slough and Cassalary Creek upgraded from "prohibited" to "approved."

The 2011 upgrade is due to improved marine water quality at monitoring stations near the mouth of the Dungeness River and as those trends continued additional upgrades were added. The changes in classification was prompted by the results of a comprehensive review of pollution conditions and water quality data by DOH, and follows years of cleanup actions, monitoring, and public outreach by Clallam County, Clallam Conservation District, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe, and other partners. The reclassified area has the same seasonal restriction as inner Dungeness Bay: open to commercial shellfish harvest from February through October but closed from November through January. The tidelands surrounding the mouth of the Dungeness River are still closed to shellfish harvest year-round due to freshwater inputs from the river and Meadowbrook Creek, elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria in Meadowbrook Creek, and uncertainty about the marine water quality at the mouths of these drainages.