Part of a commercial shellfish harvest area used by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is closing because of bacterial pollution.

The state Department of Health announced Wednesday that the shellfish harvest site in west Skagit County is one of six in the state being closed indefinitely due to bacterial pollution found during annual water quality evaluations.

The Department of Health is closing about a 185-acre portion of the about 1,700-acre shellfish growing area.

Another 16 shellfish harvest areas in the state are at risk of being closed due to periodic pollution, according to a news release.

The Department of Health uses national water quality standards to regulate commercial shellfish harvesting to ensure shellfish harvested from state waters are safe to eat, according to the release.

Scott Berbells, Department of Health Office of Shellfish and Water Protection growing areas supervisor, said the agency monitors water quality at shellfish growing areas throughout the year.

Once a year, results of the past 30 water samples from each shellfish growing area in the state are reviewed. If water quality does not meet the standard, the shellfish growing area may be closed. If some pollution is present, but not enough to warrant a closure, the shellfish growing area is deemed threatened, or at risk of being closed.

The agency looks for fecal coliform, a bacteria associated with feces that may be accompanied by other bacteria that can cause illness if contaminated shellfish are eaten raw.

The Swinomish shellfish growing area was on the state’s list of those threatened by the presence of bacteria in 2015 and 2016, and failed to meet the standard this year, Berbells said.

Berbells said the state agency will work with the tribe and possibly others to find and fix pollution problems affecting the shellfish harvest area.

A representative of the Swinomish tribe did not immediately return requests for comment.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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