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Tribal shellfishers back on CK beaches?

It’s been years — decades, really — since Tribal and other shellfishers have been digging in north Dyes Inlet, near Silverdale.

But tribal and non-tribal shellfish harvesters will soon be able to comb the beaches at north Dyes Inlet without the fear of digging up contaminated clams and oysters, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

The DoH has upgraded portions of the Inlet, between Silverdale and Bremerton, from “Prohibited” to “Conditionally approved.”

What this means is that the upgraded areas will be open for shellfish harvesting — except in the event of a accidental sewage spills that occasionally occur after heavy storms.

Public beaches at Anna Smith Children’s Park near Tracyton and Clam Island will also be open to shellfishers.

Contamination from untreated waste, stormwater runoff, and failing septic tanks and systems concerned the state enough to close the inlet to commercial harvesting in the 1960s, said representatives of the DoH Food & Shellfish Safety division.

After years of study, and major improvements to Bremerton’s wastewater collection system, the state will reopen nearly four miles of beach in Dyes Inlet and around Erlands Point.

The upgrade is the result of the cooperative effort of the Suquamish Tribe, DoH, U.S. Navy, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and its Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Bremerton, Kitsap County Health District, and others.

“This took a true team effort to get these beaches reclassified, ” said Rob Purser, fisheries director for the Suquamish Tribe. “Cleaning up Dyes Inlet has been a priority for the tribe, as well as other agencies and property owners in the area.”

The tribe is entitled to one-half of the naturally produced shellfish in the area. The right was established by treaty and reaffirmed in 1994 when federal district court upheld western Washington tribes the rights to half the shellfish in their “Usual and accustomed areas.”

Before tribal harvesting occurs, though, tribal fishers have to inform property owners, conduct a shellfish population survey, and share that information with property owners. They are to access the beach by boat. Harvests will take place during daylight hours with tribal enforcement officers on site.

In the meantime, since 1991, the Kitsap County Health District has inspected more than 1,100 septic systems, nearly 100 failing systems have been repaired. The city of Bremerton has spent nearly $40 million over the past seven years to reduce discharges.

The Navy has used a computer model that shows pollutants dissipate prior to reaching dyes Inlet.

“We’re pleased that some of our work, like the computer modeling, could be used to help other stakeholders on their specific wastewater quality issues,” said Capt. Clarke Orzalli, commanding officer of PSNS.

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