Tribes work to protect Port Susan
The Stillaguamish and Tulalip Tribes are working toward the designation of Port Susan Bay as a Marine Stewardship Area, a crucial first step in restoring and conserving the 41-square-mile bay.
The tribes are partnering with the Snohomish and Island County Marine Resources Committees (MRC), The Nature Conservancy and the Northwest Straits Commission. The Stillaguamish Tribe recently received a $10,000 grant from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board’s Community Fund for the effort. The Snohomish MRC will bring the issue to the Snohomish County Council in March.
Before the bay becomes a Marine Stewardship Area, the tribes and partner agencies will organize community groups to discuss goals and impacts of the designation. Then they will assess the current condition of the ecosystem and strategies to reduce its threats. The designation will promote ecosystem-based management through conservation plans to carry out those strategies.
“The Stillaguamish Tribe values Port Susan Bay because of our historic use of this area. It is our duty to restore and maintain this ecosystem for future generations,” said Stillaguamish Chairman Shawn Yanity. “Given the large number of people that reside near and visit Port Susan, this is a unique opportunity to raise awareness of existing regulations and to demonstrate responsible resource stewardship to everyone connected to the bay.”
Historically, tribes fished and clammed in Port Susan, but the populations of many marine species have declined because of habitat loss and pollution from the ever-increasing human population. Designating the bay as a Marine Stewardship Area will help reverse these declines and promote sustainable use of living marine resources.
“Our tribal culture depends on healthy ecosystems to support the resources we harvest,” said Tulalip Chairman Mel Sheldon. “We hope that a Port Susan Marine Stewardship Area will be a vehicle by which we can work with local citizens to maintain these resources for all of us.”
Port Susan Bay is bounded by Camano Island and mainland Snohomish County. The bay’s rich estuaries provide food and shelter for salmon at various life stages. Puget Sound chinook salmon and steelhead, both listed as “threatened” on the federal Endangered Species List, rely on the Stillaguamish and other rivers for spawning habitat. Extensive marshes and mudflats in Port Susan Bay host hundreds of thousands of migrating birds and the open waters provide feeding grounds for migrating gray whales.