Vaughn Bay Shellfish Protection District

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What's Happening?

The County Council's Economic and Infrastructure Development Committee held a hearing on March 8 regarding a proposed ordinance creating the Vaughn Bay Shellfish Protection District. To view the proposed ordinance, click here.

The Vaughn Bay Shellfish Protection District is continuing to review a report on the bay closure plan.


Vaughn Bay, on the west side of the Key Peninsula in Pierce County, Washington is well-suited to growing shellfish. Both Native Americans and early European settlers knew the bay as an abundant source of clams and oysters. In the 1980s, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) determined that bacteria levels in water quality samples taken from the bay were too high for human consumption. DOH classified the bay as Restricted for shellfish harvest.

In 2009, water quality samples showed that bacteria levels have declined significantly. DOH reclassified 103 acres of the bay to approved status, and in 2011, added an additional 50 acres to the approved status area. Unfortunately, recent samples have shown that bacteria levels in Vaughn Bay are increasing, again.
About the Project
Every month the Washington State Department of Health tests the water in Vaughn Bay for bacteria. Recently, bacteria levels have become too high for people to safely eat shellfish collected from the bay. When this occurs, the status of the bay is changed and Pierce County is required to establish a Shellfish Protection District and create a Closure Response Plan.

What is a Shellfish Protection District?
The features of a Shellfish Protection District are defined by Washington State law in RCW 90.72. All of the area draining into Vaughn Bay will become part of the Shellfish District. Properties included in the Shellfish Protection District are not subject to any special fees or regulations. An ordinance establishing the District must be presented to the Pierce County Council for adoption.

What is a Closure Response Plan?

The Closure Response Plan (CRP) outlines how Pierce County and partner agencies will respond to improve water quality. The closure of the bay is the result of high fecal coliform bacteria levels. These bacteria are found in the intestines of all warm blooded animals, including humans, livestock, pets and birds. High levels indicate unsanitary conditions. The CRP will focus on both finding and correcting the primary contributors of bacteria to Vaughn Bay.

The most common sources of bacteria in areas like Vaughn Bay are failing septic systems, pets and livestock, so Pierce County will be working with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and the Pierce Conservation District to develop the CRP. The Pierce County Shellfish Partners 2020 Strategic Plan will help guide the development of the CRP.

What can you do?

Vaughn Bay will not have clean water without the help and support of Vaughn Bay residents. If you are interested in helping create a CRP that will work for Vaughn Bay residents, please let us know by signing up for notifications.
Contact Us
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Barbara Ann Smolko
Watershed Coordinator
Phone: (253) 798-6156
Fax: (253) 798-7709
7:30 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
Mailing Address:
2702 S 42nd St, Ste 201
Tacoma, WA 98409-7322

In Person: Visit Suite 109